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Claire's Publications

My academic career focused on the effects of empathy and storytelling. You can find my scholarly work linked here!

We document definitions of and relationships between pain, stress, and suffering while also reflecting on our own diverse training and experiences. Recognizing a range of causes and interpretations, we differentiate between maladaptive and adaptive forms of pain, stress, and suffering. Measures and identifiers of pain often rely on quantifiable measures, while suffering demands a greater attention to perceptions of self-understanding. Engaging with pain, stress, and suffering means considering how the mind and brain work together in processing and articulating moments of physical agony, heightened anxiety, and unbridled grief, as well as the stories we tell ourselves about these experiences.

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In two studies, we introduce the concept of spontaneous side-taking (SST) to describe how people initially align themselves in a conflict. The effects of side-taking in established conflicts are well studied, such as empathetic engagement and polarization. However, there is less known about how people spontaneously choose sides in situations without prior allegiances. To study these neglected effects of SST, we use two-character narratives to present participants with new conflicts in which they have no initial vested interest. These short narratives describe acts of aggression and detail the victimization of one character by another. Through two studies, we find: (1) victim characters receive greater attention and are remembered better; (2) victim characters receive more empathy; (3) victim characters are more likely to be viewed as the authors of conflict narratives; (4) and that side-taking flexibility diminishes after the first side-taking choice. This last finding means that there is a tendency for SST to stick over time. Overall, these findings demonstrate how victimization triggers and sustains side-taking in narratives by enhancing memory of and empathy for the victim.

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"Choosing and enjoying violence in narratives"

We use an interactive story design in which participants read short stories and make two consecutive plot choices about whether protagonists commit low- or high-violence actions. Our study has four main findings. 1) People who choose high violence report greater satisfaction with the story, while those switching to or staying with no violence show lower satisfaction. 2) However, when participants encounter these stories without choices, they reliably rate higher-violence stories as less satisfying than lower-violence stories. 3) Regret seems to account for the low satisfaction of those who choose or switch to low violence. 4) There is a large segment of people (up to 66%) who can be persuaded by different story contexts (genre, perspective) to choose extreme violence in interactive fiction and as a consequence of their choice feel satisfaction. We hypothesize that people who opt for high violence enjoy the story as a result of their choice. Overall, we suggest that choosing violence serves as a gateway for enjoyment by creating an aesthetic zone of control detached from morality.

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