Vera Tobin is a cognitive scientist, author of Elements of Surprise, Our Mental Limits, and the Satisfactions of Plot.
Why do we fall for surprise endings? It turns out that our capacity to be easily fooled in books and movies is made possible by a handful of predictable mental shortcuts. In this 2018 conversation, we talk with Vera Tobin, one of the world's first cognitive scientists to study plot twists. She says storytellers have been exploiting narrative twists and turns for millennia — and that studying these sleights of hand can give us a better understanding of the contours of the mind.
Marcus talks about surprise with Dr. Vera Tobin: how it salts our stories, sometimes to great effect, sometimes leaving a bitter taste in our mouths. Vera Tobin is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western University. Before that, she taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara. 
Marcus talks about surprise with Dr. Vera Tobin: how it salts our stories, sometimes to great effect, sometimes leaving a bitter taste in our mouths. Vera Tobin is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western University. Before that, she taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara. 
Every now and again on Facebook, I learn that friends of mine from kindergarten are doing really really cool stuff. Today I’m chatting with Vera Tobin, a professor of cognitive science at Case Western, and author of the upcoming book, The Elements of Surprise, which comes out on April 16, 2018. Her book is all about how the surprises, tw ists, and unexpected revelations we love in fiction actually work on our brains cognitively. In her work, she breaks down the different ways in which we processes surprises and twists in books and movies, and the structure of different types of surprises. As you might imagine, when I saw her talking about her book on Facebook, I was immediately super nosy. Harvard University Press was cool enough to send me an ARC, even though I’m not (a) a cognitive scientist or (b) an academic (thank you, y’all!) and it was a fascinating read, and I’m not just saying that because Vera was my best friend in kindergarten. When we recorded this, we probably hadn’t spoken to each other in person or via phone in at least 20-25 years, but we had a great time. She tells us about: The importance of surprise and also cognitive satisfaction, especially in genre fiction The parallels between literary surprises and orgasms The categorizing of spoilers - different types and different effects We also talk about the book The Duke’s Wager by Edith Layton, which features a very twisty romance indeed - and yes, we spoil it a little bit while discussing it.
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Creator Details

Episode Count
4
Podcast Count
4
Total Airtime
1 hour, 36 minutes
PCID
Podchaser Creator ID logo 164622