EnglishScotland's Stories by Word & Screen

About the Project

Scotland's Stories by Word and Screen’ is a programme funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and hosted by Strathclyde University in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust and Glasgow Women’s Library that aims to explore the cognitive differences between hearing or reading stories, and seeing them as film or video.

We know from previous research studies that reading for pleasure is correlated with educational attainment and wellbeing. However, fewer young Scots read for pleasure than in the past. Competition with screen-based entertainment is one possible explanation for this decline.

This project considers narrative, one of the key areas where screen and word are in competition.

We do not know yet what is lost, or gained, by a shift in the consumption of narrative from text to film and how far, if at all, we should aim to attempt to reverse this trend.

This project focuses on two key questions: 

  • How far do we process film and text in different ways?
  • Why might these differences matter? 

We are a group of academics from the fields of neuroscience, literature, film studies and psychology working in partnership with The Scottish Book Trust and the Glasgow Women's Library

Project Lead

Dr Elspeth Jajdelska

Dr Elspeth Jajdelska studied English language and literature at Glasgow University and completed a PhD on seventeenth-century diaries at Leeds University in 1996. She then worked as a fund manager for an Edinburgh firm for three years, before spending a year and a half at the Jagiellonian and Pedagogical Universities in Krakow, Poland.

Elspeth came to Strathclyde in 2001 and is currently a Senior Lecturer in English. She has two completed books on the history of reading in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In both, she aims to reconnect the history of reading with the history of speech. Elspeth also researches how cognitive science can help us to understand literary experience.

To support this work she completed an MSc in  Mind, Language and Embodied Cognition in 2016 (distinction), and is also a Principle Investigator on a Royal Society of Edinburgh funded network looking at cognitive differences in narrative processing by language versus moving image.


  • Dr Miranda Anderson, University of Stirling, English
  • Dr Chris Butler (Chief Investigator for this project), University of Oxford, Neurology
  • Prof Nigel Fabb, University of Strathclyde, English
  • Dr Liz Finnigan, South Regional College, Northern Ireland, English
  • Dr Ian Garwood, University of Glasgow, Film Studies
  • Dr Steve Kelly, University of Strathclyde, Psychology
  • Professor Karin Kukkonen, University of Oslo, Comparative Literature and Narratology
  • Dr Sinead Mullally, University of Newcastle, Psychology
  • Professor Stephan Schwan, University of Tübingen, Psychology


Scottish Book Trust

The Scottish Book Trust is a national charity that works to promote a love of reading across the lifespan and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop and improve their literacy skills. 

Learn more about the Scottish Book Trust

Glasgow Women's Library

Glasgow Women's Library is a lending library and a museum holding historical and contemporary artefacts that celebrate the lives, histories and achievements of women. 

Learn more about the Glasgow Women's Library


While it has been known for some time that reading is correlated with educational attainment, in recent years it has emerged that it is reading fiction in particular which brings not just these benefits but improved well being too.

At the same time, young people read less for pleasure than they did, often because screens are providing more forms of entertainment than in the past. What is not yet clear is whether watching stories could have some of the positive effects associated with reading fiction. We are addressing this question but looking more closely at precisely how narrative processing in one medium differs from the other.

What are the mechanisms that let viewers or readers form narrative inferences, for example? In particular, we are interested in the ways films and books engage the episodic memory system, a set of neural resources that let us form memories of our personal lives, but also allows us to imagine the future and model the present.

Academic Conferences 

We have hosted two academic conferences, which have explored different questions about narrative processing on screen and in text. Cognition of Verbal and Screen-Based Narrative workshop took place from 30-31 January 2016 and brought together academics from a range of different disciplines and representatives from The Scottish Book Trust and Glasgow Women's Library to consider the following questions: 

  • How might cognition of verbal narrative differ from that of screen-based narrative? 
  • What are the most promising hypotheses and lines of inquiry for future research on this topic? 

Learn more about .

Methods for Investigating the Differences Between Processing Narrative by Moving Imaging and Narrative by Text was a three-day conference held from 17-19 May 2017 at the University of Strathclyde and followed on from the 2016 workshops.

Learn more about .  

Relevant Publications

  • Ahmed, S., Irish, M., Loane, C., Baker, I., Husain, M., Thompson, S., Blanco-Duque, C., Mackay, C., Zamboni, G., Foxe, D., Hodges, J., Piguet, O. & Butler, B. 2018. Association between precuneus volume and autobiographical memory impairment in posterior cortical atrophy: Beyond the visual syndrome. Neuroimage: Clinical. 18. 822-834.
  • Anderson, M. 2015. Fission-fusion cognition in Shakespearean Drama: the case for Julius Caesar. Narrative. 23 (2). 154-168.
  • Finnegan, E. 2013. A cognitive approach to spatial patterning in literary narrative. PhD thesis. University of Strathclyde.
  • Huff, M. & Schwan, S. 2008. Verbalizing events: overshadowing or facilitation? Memory & Cognition. 36 (2). 392 – 402.
  • Huff, M. & Schwan, S. 2012. Do not cross the line: heuristic spatial updating in dynamic scenes. Psychonomic Bulletin Review. 19. 1065 – 1072.
  • Schwan, S. 2015. First-time viewers’ comprehension of films: bridging shot transitions. British Journal of Psychology. 106. 133-151.
  • Jajdelska, E., Butler, C., Kelly, S., McNeill, C. & Overy, K. 2010. Crying, moving and keeping it whole: what makes literary description vivid? Poetics Today. 31 (3). 433 – 463.
  • Jajdelska, E. Forthcoming. The flow of narrative in the mind unmoored: an account of narrative processing. Philosophical Psychology.
  • Kukkonen, K. (2011). Comics as a test case for transmedial narratology. Substance. 40 (1). 34-52.
  • Mullally, S., Intraug, H. & Maguire, E. 2012. Attenuated boundary extension produces a paradoxical memory advantage in amnesic patients. Current Biology. 22. 261-268.