Multiversionality: Considering multiple possibilities in the processing of narratives

Abstract

This paper proposes a conceptual framework of multiversional narrative processing, or multiversionality. Multiversionality is the consideration of multiple possible event sequences for an incomplete narrative during reception, from reading a novel to listening to the story of a friend’s day. It occurs naturally and is experienced in a wide range of cases, such as suspense, surprise, counterfactuals, and detective stories. Receiving a narrative, we propose, is characterized by the spontaneous creation of competing interpretive models of the narrative that are then used to create predictions and projections for the narrative’s future. These predictions serve as a mechanism for integrating incoming information and updating the narrative model through prediction error, without completely eliminating past versions. We define this process as having three aspects: constrained expectations, preference projection, and causal extrapolation. Constrained expectations and preference projections respectively create the bounds and subjective desires for a narrative’s progress, while causal extrapolation builds, reworks, and maintains the potential models for understanding the narrative. We offer multiversionality as a novel framework for thinking about narrative, social cognition, and decision making that presents adaptive benefits and future directions for empirical study.

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