An acquired taste: How reading literature affects sensitivity to word distributions when judging literary texts


This study examines how reading habits affect people’s sensitivity to word distributions in literary and non-literary writing. We manipulated eight literary and non-literary passages, creating modified versions that had lower word chunk frequencies but higher individual word frequencies than the originals. Subjects were then asked to rate the passages’ quality of writing. Results showed that subjects with more experience reading literary writing (literary readers) gave higher ratings to original literary passages, while subjects with less literary reading experience (non-literary readers) preferred modified versions. Subjects with both types of reading habits rated original versions of non-literary passages higher. This indicates that literary readers are sensitive to frequencies of word chunks containing words that appear more frequently in the literary genre, while non-literary readers are not. We suggest that, over time, people can acquire slightly different representations of the probabilistic structure of language through their specific linguistic exposure.

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