Research evidence supports the claim that engagement with works of fiction may benefit readers’ social cognitive abilities of empathy and theory of mind. However, there is little direct evidence to support claims about the causal mechanisms underlying the positive influence of leisure reading. Simulation theory has emerged as the most common explanatory mechanism. We summarize simulation theory and indicate ways in which the theory requires a more concrete instantiation. To provide a contrast to simulation theory, we offer three accounts of the origins of the emotional content of readers’ narrative experiences. Our goal is to highlight the diversity of processes that contribute to readers’ affective responses. Finally, we consider how ordinary processes of learning and memory might explain changes in readers’ social cognition.

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