The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

16
A Map of Psychological Approaches to Story Memory

Steven R. Yussen

From early childhood to late adulthood, a common way people exchange information is through stories. Stories are used for entertainment, for inspiration, for dramatizing ethical and moral lessons, for sharing newsworthy happenings, and for explaining concepts in concrete and personal terms, to name just a few obvious purposes. It is no surprise, then, that there has been an explosion of interest and research by cognitive psychologists on how people remember and understand stories ( Bower and Morrow 1990; Mandler 1987; Stein and Trabasso 1982; Yussen, Mathews, Huang, and Evans 1988; Stein, Trabasso, and Liwag 1994; Yussen and Ozcan, in press). In this chapter, I will consider, in turn (1) the nature of stories; (2) the major theoretical models used to describe stories and story comprehension; and finally (3) the influence of story coherence on processing stories. We recognize that stories are consumed both by listening and by reading. For convenience, I will refer to the story "consumer" primarily as a reader throughout the remainder of this essay, confident that most (but not all) of what I have to say about reading and remembering stories can be generalized to listeners as well as to readers.

Stories come in many forms. Some recount true events; others are fiction. Some are short and simple, as in the experimental narratives used by many cognitive psychologists; other stories are long and complex as in literary short stories or novels, with thousands of words, many events, and many levels of intended meaning and purpose. Some stories are designed to be told; they are part of an oral tradition. Other stories are meant to be read. Finally, some stories have a simple linear structure which is easily discerned. One or more characters engage in a series of actions that follow logically from one to the next, the characters' motivations are openly revealed in the text, and there is a logical conclusion to the problem(s) set for the characters. Other stories have a structure less readily discerned by the reader. The logic of characters' actions

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