Suspension of Disbelief

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Suspension of Disbelief

In the world of fiction you are often required to believe a premise which you would never accept in the real world. Especially in genres such as fantasy and science fiction, things happen in the story which you would not believe if they were presented in a newspaper as fact. Even in more real-world genres such as action movies, the action routinely goes beyond the boundaries of what you think could really happen.

In order to enjoy such stories, the audience engages in a phenomenon known as "suspension of disbelief". This is a semi-conscious decision in which you put aside your disbelief and accept the premise as being real for the duration of the story.

Suspension of disbelief only works to a point. It is important that the story maintains its own form of believability and doesn't push the limits too far. There are many factors for the budding story-writer or film-maker to consider, including the following....

The initial premise can be quite outrageous as long as the story maintains consistency within that premise. There are many things about the Star Trek universe which are basically impossible in the real world, but because Star Trek makes an effort to work consistently within its own universe, the stories become believable. For example, as long as you're willing to accept that the Galaxy is mostly populated by humanoids then there is nothing within the series that will break the believability.

The quality of special effects must be believable. It is harder to suspend disbelief in movies where the special effects appear fake.

The genre will determine the lengths to which you can push believability. Audiences will be willing to believe an action hero can perform super-human feats, but the same feats performed suddenly in a romantic drama would result in confusion and disbelief.

Some stories purposely push the suspension of disbelief to the limit. The Indiana Jones movies were a good example, where the audience was expected to find the improbable antics amusing.

One important area of belief is in human actions and emotion. People must act, react and interact in ways which are believable. In cases where such interactions do require suspension of disbelief, the normal rules of consistency apply. Audiences are very unforgiving if they think a character is behaving in an unbelievable fashion.


By Lauren F. Friedman

TRUTH MAY BE EMPIRICAL, but judgments of veracity are not based on evidence alone. At least part of our belief--or disbelief--in a statement comes from what comedian Stephen Colbert calls truthiness: "truth that comes from the gut, not books." While cold, hard facts are by definition unchangeable; our intuitive sense of what's true is easily manipulated. Have a bridge you need to sell? Here are three tricks that make people more likely to trust a false statement--don't let yourself be swayed by them.

Paint a Picture

Placing an image beside an assertion--say, a random photo of macadamia nuts next to the statement "Macadamia nuts are related to peaches"--makes subjects more likely to rate the accompanying statement as true, a recent study reports. The same method works with an assertion about a celebrity, whether it reads "So-and-so is dead" or "So-and-so is alive." Why? The researchers suggest that people regard photographs as evidence backing up just about any stated hypothesis.

Say It Twice

When it comes to persuading someone that what you're saying is the truth, "Better luck next time" isn't just a bromide--it's a time-tested tip. Because we tend to trust things that feel familiar, a misleading claim becomes more convincing when it's repeated. A recent study reported in Acta Psychologies finds that people are likelier to believe statements in eyewitness accounts when they are repeated, even if the source is a single person restating a lie and there are no corroborators.

Make Some Sense

The first step to comprehending something may be accepting it as true, at least for a moment. In a classic study, "You Can't Not Believe Everything You Read," psychologist Daniel Gilbert and coauthors found evidence that unless a person is hyper vigilant, understanding requires some suspension of disbelief. When people are distracted, rushed, or mentally overloaded, they are especially susceptible to taking any comprehensible statement at face value.

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