It’s suspense, stupid! Biological correlates of suspense: An empirical investigation.
Suspense is usually defined as an emotional state provoked by the withholding of relevant information. More recent definitions focus on the anticipation or expectation of the reader with regards to a certain – preferred – outcome. Suspense, therefore, can be seen as an interaction between the reader and the text. This paper discusses, firstly, a possible operationalisation of this definition, and secondly, questions the text-based research of suspense. Regarding the brain as an integrated part of the body, it will be shown that cognitive processes can be observed through bodily reactions controlled primarily by the vegetative nervous system. Based on this idea, an experiment was conducted, which observed changes in readers’ suspense-related reactions following textual manipulations. This paper will demonstrate the advantage of defining suspense as a fixed physical reaction pattern, and suggests studying textual attributes by observing reader behavior rather than textual composition.