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Perceived Realism as a Decision Process

Michael A. Shapiro


What do we mean when we say a story is realistic? At first, that may seem simple. One possibility is that realism is a characteristic of the genre – news is real and a →  soap opera is not. That explanation may work in many cases, but →  fiction is intended to capture aspects of reality that are not easily depicted in the news. A soap-opera depiction of a sexual infidelity may capture the emotional reality of that betrayal better than a documentary on the topic. Another possibility is that people think if something looks real, it is real. Certainly, appearance is a cue to realism. For example, each new generation of →  Video game uses increased computer power to make the games look more realistic. But appearance of a video game or television show does not provide a complete picture of the problem. While young children tend to think that what looks real is real, adults know that what something looks like does not always reflect its true nature. No matter how realistic a dragon may look, an adult knows that dragons do not exist. Such changes in realism judgments as people mature indicate that people use knowledge of the world to judge the realism of stories. For example, police dramas judged highly realistic by many people may seem comical to law enforcement professionals. But even a person's knowledge about the world cannot be a complete answer. Just comparing a story to what ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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