Apart from learning about the nature of absorption, my PhD research mainly taught me that research consists for a large part out of making mistakes and then learning how to avoid them in the future, and accepting the fact that this is how research works. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I do believe that science nowadays is very much focused on productivity, efficiency and thus on presenting only positive, hypothesis-confirming results. Whereas I think we can actually learn more from our rejected hypotheses and the unavoidable mistakes we make along the way. That is certainly true for my research on absorption.

My first post doc project at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics evolved from a dissatisfaction on my part about what I was able to find (or rather not find) in my PhD project and this feeling of ‘what if…’. What if we had chosen a different point of departure, what if we had formulated the research question in a different way, what if we had chosen different measures. Obviously, that is what happens within research, or rather, what is supposed to happen. And thus my aim for my first post doc project was to measure absorption during literary reading, but this time using physiological measures in order to investigate absorption online, while it is happening.

Measuring absorption using eye tracking

Now, at the start of my second post doc position at the University of Basel’s Digital Humanities lab, I am finally using eye tracking methods and capturing absorption in different ways. Well, what have I been doing then in the last three years? Research meanders, it is not straight forward and I meandered and completed several other projects, all absorption related, before I was ready for eye tracking. This has of course to do with the rather steep learning curve of such physiological measures and the analyses strategies necessary to analyze their data in a meaningful way, especially for someone coming from traditional humanities.

I am looking forward to my time at the University of Basel, working together with Gerhard Lauer and Berenike Herrmann, revisiting the question of what textual features inspire absorption using new and exciting measures and methodologies. Having a chance to look at a problem in a different way, using different tools to try and solve it is really inspiring. As is the new direction I am envisioning for my absorption research at the DH lab: using methodologies from digital humanities to approach absorbing online reading experiences and diving into the field of bibliotherapy more fully. Up till now I have merely dipped my toes in the water, but it is an exciting field where not a lot of empirical research has been done on the effects of reading literature on people’s well-being. And that is exactly what I want to be doing!


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