Research Bulletin: How Children Make Sense of Impossible Events in Fiction

Posted by Guneet Daid | OnFiction: The Psychology of Fiction | Monday, 14 September 2015

“Preschoolers can Infer General Rules Governing Fantastical Events in Fiction,” by J.W. Van de Vondervoort and O. Friedman

This is an interesting article, by Guneet Daid, from OnFiction, about a study, “Preschoolers can Infer General Rules Governing Fantastical Events in Fiction,” by J.W. Van de Vondervoort and O. Friedman, that reveals the ability of children to easily differentiate between fantasy and reality. Continue reading . . .


Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

Muse (Photo by Marisa Ross)

“Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.” The flight attendant’s instructions never fail to unnerve me. I understand the logic, but the words smack of selfishness. We celebrate individualism. The ubiquitous devices of our time—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad—begin with a letter that doubles as a personal pronoun.

Parenting should never be self-indulgent. As a father, I have assisted my children by fostering their embrace of creative muses. Whatever tools they needed, they had. Crayons. LEGOs. Cameras. My daughter knows she needn’t ask permission to borrow my laptop if her muse is demanding she write a short story. I know what that feels like, to have words pounding inside your skull in an attempt to escape.

As a toddler my daughter would occasionally awaken, alone and distressed. I would sing her troubled spirit back to sleep, and then, being already awake, enjoy her gentle breathing while releasing those skull-pounding words onto paper. I would write my pre-dawn musings—from serious examinations of the challenges of parenthood to whimsical reflections on how “why” was my daughter’s favorite word—and then put them away. At some point she began sleeping through the night. I put down my pen.

Apply the oxygen mask to yourself before assisting your child.

And now, years later, my daughter and I find ourselves on the campus of an art school for a pre-college visit. I take her hand. I’m so happy for you, I say. You’ll thrive here, surrounded by creative people just like you, passionate spirits who draw, paint, photograph, write. I share my pride, but I mask my envy. She has an artist’s observational eye, however. She sees the truth in my face, hears it in my voice, feels it in my grip. “Why don’t you write anymore, Dad?”

For sixteen years I have instructed my children to live a life of truth. But have I modeled that life? I told my muse that the demands of parenthood forced me to choose my children over her. But that is a lie. I did not have to choose, yet I took the easy path. One day not writing became two, then four, then a year, then a decade.

I hear in my daughter’s question that to her I am a fellow artist. Perhaps her artistic inspiration stemmed not solely from my provision of tools but from her witnessing my stolen moments of creative writing. She views me as having applied the mask to myself first, and she is grateful. But at some point I removed the mask. As I stand with her on that campus, I know her mask is secure. I know as well that it is time for me to return to my muse, and embrace the intake of purified air.



Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross

Patrick Ross is an award-winning journalist in northern Virginia. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and blogs about living an art-committed life at The Artist’s Road. He loves antique maps, historical biographies, and bacon.

Connect with Patrick Ross
The Artist’s Road | @PatrickRwrites

Photo by Lisa Helfert



Patrick Ross Recommends:

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, selected by Phillip Lopate

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

The Next American Essay, Edited and Introduced by John D'Agata

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth

What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth


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How Gender Roles Crush Creativity


Photo: Flickruser (George Eastman House), Creative Commons 2.0

The recent firestorm surrounding the J Crew ad (also included below) that showed a mom painting her son’s toenails hot pink appalled me. Set aside the repulsive homophobia—Ms. Lyons, one naysayer complained, is “exploiting [her son] Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics”—really? Never mind feminist politics—would these same critics be appalled by a photo of a five-year-old girl collecting rocks or digging up worms? I doubt it.

As an artist, I’m aghast.

Creativity demands that we stretch boundaries, break rules. William James said, “genius . . . means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”

As writers and artists, we rack our brain trying to figure out how to “perceive in an unhabitual way,” break out of habit, loosen inhibitions, free our minds of all the nasty, judgmental detritus. We play tricks on ourselves—read, meditate, listen to music. Some drink or use drugs. With all these activities, healthy or not, we attempt to escape the restrictions forced upon us by our upbringing, our education, by a world that distrusts the original, disparages rule-breakers.

Creativity demands that we stretch boundaries, break rules.

Rules are necessary, of course. Civilizations require adequate means of controlling their citizens. Without rules to prohibit rape, thievery, murder, we’d live in mayhem, in constant fear for our lives. Yet rules can also be arbitrary, the product of superstition, outmoded beliefs. For thousands of years, people associated left-handedness with the Devil. My kindergarten teacher had this rule, demonstrated rather than spoken: you wrote, cut, and colored with your right hand. By implication, without ever aggressively trying, she transformed me, a natural leftie, into a right-hander—no big deal, except that it set me up for a lifetime of directional confusion. Not all rules are righteous or good.

For artists and writers, rules create structure. They provide a way to frame our ideas, give us a place to begin. Following rules helps to eliminate confusion, ambiguity. For patrons or readers, rules serve as a guide; they provide accessibility, offer a way in, a means of understanding the work. Strict adherence to form, though in certain ways restrictive, can produce works of great beauty. Creativity, originality, though—this demands a break from the rules.

Why can’t an American boy have painted toenails? What’s the big deal? Egyptian men applied henna to their fingernails as a cosmetic. In 19th century Afghanistan, hennaed fingernails were a sign of victory and prestige. Or is the real problem, the detail that drove the detractors so crazy, that Ms. Lyons painted her son’s toenails hot pink?

Circumscribed gender roles—among the most stereotypical and arbitrary of rules—put kids in a box. Reining kids in—forcing adherence to arbitrary roles for the sake of social acceptance—bridles their imagination, teaches them to conform. If we hope to foster creativity in our children, we need to give them room to breathe, space to imagine.

We need to let them dig up their worms. Or paint their nails pink.


Terri Long


Terri Giuliano Long is the bestselling author of the award-winning novel In Leah’s Wake. Books offer her a zest for life’s highs and comfort in its lows. She’s all-too-happy to share this love with others as a novelist and a writing teacher at Boston College. She was grateful and thrilled beyond words when In Leah’s Wake hit the

Barnes & Noble and Amazon bestseller lists in August. She owes a lot of wonderful people – big time! – for any success she’ s enjoyed!

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She blogs about writing and the writing life at
Facebook | Twitter: @tglong


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