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Getting Inside Your Head

, 240 pages

35 b&w photos

August 2012



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Getting Inside Your Head

What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

We live in other people's heads: avidly, reluctantly, consciously, unaware, mistakenly, and inescapably. Our social life is a constant negotiation among what we think we know about each other's thoughts and feelings, what we want each other to think we know, and what we would dearly love to know but don't.

Cognitive scientists have a special term for the evolved cognitive adaptation that makes us attribute mental states to other people through observation of their body language; they call it theory of mind. Getting Inside Your Head uses research in theory of mind to look at movies, musicals, novels, classic Chinese opera, stand-up comedy, mock-documentaries, photography, and reality television. It follows Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy as he tries to conceal his anger, Tyler Durden as he lectures a stranger at gunpoint in Fight Club, and Ingrid Bergman as she fakes interest in horse races in Notorious.

This engaging book exemplifies the new interdisciplinary field of cognitive cultural studies, demonstrating that collaboration between cognitive science and cultural studies is both exciting and productive.

Lisa Zunshine is Bush-Holbrook Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is the author and editor of ten books, including Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative and Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies, both also published by Johns Hopkins. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008.

"Zunshine’s book was difficult to stop reading; while she handles all these genres with skill, clearly her strength is in reading literature (as she returns to literary references even in the other chapters). Having an understanding of human evolution and how the brain works makes reading a book such as Zunshine’s more satisfying."

"Offers readers a good deal of food for thought and exemplifies how illuminating the principles from science can be when applied to other forms of culture. Highly recommended."

"Drawing widely and judiciously on recent research in neuroscience, Getting Inside Your Head expands [theory of mind] to cover all of human culture, from novels to films, plays, musicals, paintings and reality shows."

"This is the cutting edge of literary scholarship... Presents a rich array of innovative approaches to textual analysis for the researcher wishing to explore the cognitive revolution."

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