## Introduction ##
Readers, writers and scholars alike have long recognized that reading literary stories is often accompanied by the presence of mental images. When we read about the protagonist of a story, we often imagine his or her actions, perceptions, thoughts and feelings as if we were experiencing them ourselves. This process has been called mental simulation and, according to some researchers, sits at the heart of the literary experience (Burke, 2011; Mar & Oatley, 2008; Starr, 2013).
Not a lot is known, however, about the factors that determine when, what and how much readers mentally simulate when they read a literary narrative. Previous research suggests that the process of literary induced mental simulation is an interaction between the characteristics of the reader, such as reading experience, and the textual features of the narrative, such as perspective (Willems & Jacobs, 2016). As verbs usually denote the actions and events that take place in narratives, it seems logical that certain characteristics of the verb, such as verb tense, might also influence the mental simulation elicited in readers. Despite the fact that many literary scholars have often described the present tense as more “vivid” (e.g. Schiffrin, 1981), this study is one of the first to experimentally assess the influence of verb tense on the mental simulation of actions and perceptions evoked by literary stories.
## Goal and hypotheses ##
The main goal of the study is to investigate the influence of verb tense in literary narratives on the mental simulation elicited in readers. In this study, mental simulation refers to the simulation of actions and perceptions in the mind of the reader, or, following Barsalou (1999), to the mental “enactment of the perceptual or motor […] experiences” of the characters in the story. In order to address this question we will measure readers’ responses to four different stories in present and past tense versions with the use of an adapted version of the Dutch Story World Absorption Scale, specifically the mental imagery dimension (SWAS; Kuijpers, Hakemulder, Tan & Doicaru, 2014). Besides questionnaires, we also want to explore the option of using an online measure of mental simulation. Consequently, we also measured participants’ eye-movements during reading. The rationale here is that mental simulation costs time and effort, and should therefore show up in the eye-tracking data as increased fixation times for passages that elicit simulation.
In line with earlier claims from the field of stylistics that the present tense is more vivid (e.g. Brinton, 1992; Schiffrin, 1989), our initial hypotheses are as follows:
> H1 – Stories presented in the present tense elicit more mental simulation and therefore
> lead to higher scores on the SWAS, specifically the mental imagery
> dimension, compared to past tense stories.
> H2 – Stories presented in the present tense elicit more mental simulation and therefore
> lead to an increase in fixation time for simulation-eliciting
> passages, compared to past tense stories.
However, some scholars, e.g. Harvey (1986), have also argued that the function of the historical present is not to make the reader relive the events, but rather the writer. This is in line with previous research on the use of present tense in the most vivid parts of trauma narratives (Hellawell & Brewin, 2004; Manne, 2002; Pillemer, 2000) and Carrera et al.’s (2014) finding that the instruction to write in the past tense elicited the use of more abstract language. The present tense might thus lead the writer to write in a different, more detailed manner that consequently elicits more simulation. We thus hypothesize the following as an alternative to hypothesis 1 and 2:
> H3 - Literary stories that were *originally* written in the present
> tense elicit more simulation and therefore lead to higher scores on
> the SWAS, specifically the mental imagery dimension, compared to
> stories originally written in the past tense, independent of whether
> the stories are presented in their original present tense, or in a
> manipulated past tense version.
> H4 – Literary stories that were
> *originally* written in the present tense elicit more simulation and
> therefore lead to an increase in fixation time for
> simulation-eliciting passages compared to stories originally written
> in the past tense, independent of whether the stories are presented in
> their original present tense, or in a manipulated past tense version.
Finally, with regard to the combination of the on- and offline measures, we hypothesize the following:
> H5 – In general, only those participants that show increased fixation
> time for simulation-eliciting passages in a certain story will show an
> increased score on the SWAS.