Children's stories x Viewpoint x Natural Language Processing

This symposium took place in February 2023. We thank all speakers and guests for a wonderful exchange! See below some photos for a visual impression of the day, and further below the announcement, programme, and abstracts.

Photos by Werner de Valk

Monday February 27th,  2023 – Leiden University

Since 2019 we have been working on our research project "A Telling Story" in which we collect, annotate, and analyse fantasy stories told by children aged 4-12. Our focus is on perspective-taking and mindreading (a.k.a. Theory of Mind) by the fictional characters that populate these stories. Now that we are soon entering the final year of the project's timeline, we aim to bring together researchers from narratology, linguistics, developmental psychology, and computer science for an interdisciplinary, one-day symposium on Monday 27th of February, 2023 .

We are honoured to welcome Prof. Ageliki Nicolopoulou as our keynote speaker. She is the Professor of Psychology and Global Studies at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA) and has published numerous articles and book chapters about children's stories in relation to cognitive and linguistic development. 

In addition, we are excited to announce invited talks by Dr. Burcu Arslan, Dr. Esther Pascual, and PhD candidates Linde van Schuppen and Lynn Eekhof.
As part of the programme we will also present ChiSCor, our database with 600+ original stories, and some of the results of our own analyses so far.

The Symposium is free and includes a free lunch and drinks.

Location: Lorentz Center @ Leiden BioScience park (see below).

Please fill in this form to register for the symposium. Note: the talks (but not the discussion) will be streamed online via this Zoom link so can be followed remotely.  To join the zoom, please follow the instructions below.

For questions or cancellations, please send an email to Lola Vandame.

Meet our invited speakers:

Ageliki Nicolopoulou

Talk title: "The development of character representation in children’s narratives "

Burcu Arslan 

Talk title: "A computational cognitive modeling approach to the development of theory of mind"

Esther Pascual

Talk title: "Viewpointed echoed speech as communicative strategy by children with autism"

Linde Van Schuppen 

Talk title: "Does the center hold? Analyzing viewpoint in the stories of people with a schizophrenia diagnosis"

Lynn Eekhof

Talk title: "Reading Minds, Reading Stories: How social-cognitive abilities affect the processing of narratives"


9:30 Room opens

11:30 Coffee break

12:30 Lunch break

15:15 Coffee break

17:00 Drinks & snacks break

Venue                                                             click to unfold 

The Symposium will take place in the Lorentz Centre:

Snellius Building, 2nd floor
Niels Bohrweg 1
2333 CA Leiden

Zoom info                                               click to unfold

Below is the necessary information to join through zoom, please make sure that you are using the app (you can create a free account). if you have any problems, please send an email to Lola Vandame.

Join Zoom Meeting

Dr. Ageliki Nicolopoulou

Talk title: "The development of character representation in children’s narratives "

Dr. Ageliki Nicopoulou (B.A. & M.A. University of Rhode Island; Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) is a professor of psychology at Lehigh University, USA. Her research interests revolve around sociocultural developmental psychology, focusing on narrative production and comprehension in children. Particularly, she focuses on the developmental role of narratives in children's cognitive, socio-cognitive, linguistic, and literacy development. She also examines how narrative practices with peers contribute to children's reality construction and their identity formation. 


Children’s portrayal and use of characters have received relatively little attention in developmental research on narratives. And some existing approaches to studying these phenomena remain fragmentary and underdeveloped. But narratives are powerfully absorbing when they include vivid, effective, and engaging depictions of characters. And young children are fascinated by and show strong identification with fictional characters in narratives they encounter and produce. In my talk, I will suggest how and why the study of narrative development should include more effective and probing analyses of the developing representation of characters in children's stories, and of the role that the selection, portrayal, and coordination of characters play in children's construction of storyworlds.  This requires, among other things, going beyond exclusive attention to children's ability to attribute mental or emotional states to characters.  In addition to analyzing those "theory of mind" elements in narrative, we also need to understand the more substantial conceptions of the person presented in children's stories and how these are embedded in conceptions of social relations and the social world. I will use illustrative examples from my research and other studies to help show how conceptions of the person and images of social relations are inextricably linked with plot structure in younger and older children’s narratives. I will also raise some questions about research areas that need to be addressed as we gather narrative data in various social contexts. 

Dr. Burcu Arslan

Talk title: "A computational cognitive modeling approach to the development of theory of mind"

Dr. Burcu Arslan is a research scientist at ETS Global, Amsterdam. She received her PhD from the University of Groningen, at the Bernoulli Institute for Mathematics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Her passion lies in understanding human cognition by constructing computational cognitive models. 


A litmus test of children’s theory of mind is called the false belief task. Interestingly, once children can pass first-order false belief tasks, it takes them between one and three more years to use this false belief reasoning recursively by attributing a false belief to a protagonist who is attributing a belief to another character in the story (i.e., second-order false belief reasoning). Why can children not pass second-order false belief tasks once they are able to pass first-order false belief tasks? In this talk, I will present a set of studies in which we combined computational cognitive modelling with controlled experiments to provide a possible answer for this question. I will conclude the presentation by proposing a timeline for the contributing factors in children’s development of second-order theory of mind based on our computational models and empirical findings together with the previous literature.  

Dr. Esther Pascual

Talk title: "Viewpointed echoed speech as communicative strategy by children with autism"

Dr. Esther Pascual (PhD VU university of Amsterdam) is an Associate Research Professor at Shanghai International Studies University, China. She's interested in what she's coined 'fictive interaction', namely the use of conversational structures in thought, discourse, and grammar. Her current work focuses on language use by non-canonical speakers, such as children with autism and illiterate adults 


Autism is characterized by repetitive behavior. I examine a communicative phenomenon resulting from this symptom: the echoing of a prior utterance or verbal formula. So-called echolalia, a typical characteristic of autism (Kanner 1946; Prizant & Rydell 1984), has long been considered meaningless repetition to be avoided (Karmali et al. 2005; Valentino et al. 2012). By contrast, recent research shows that echolalia may in fact be an effective adaptive communicative strategy (Dobinson et al. 2003; Roberts 2014; Sterponi & Shankey 2014), as when quoting somebody’s words to refer to them (Dornelas & Pascual 2016, Pascual et al 2017). In this talk I will present a naturalistic and an elicitation study with Brazilian and Chinese children with autism. The results of both studies show that (pseudo-)verbatim echolalia is indeed mostly used functionally in autism speech, for a variety of communicative goals. I will also discuss echolalic instances involving multiple viewpoint shifts in one single conversational turn. This shows that children with autism can take the voice of discourse characters for satisfying immediate communicative goals.

Linde van Schuppen

Talk title: "Does the center hold? Analyzing viewpoint in the stories of people with a schizophrenia diagnosis"

Linde van Schuppen is a PhD candidate and teacher at Radboud University, where she combines cognitive linguistics with philosophy of mind and psychiatry in studying the oral narratives of people with a schizophrenia diagnosis. She particularly focuses on the concept of narrative viewpoint in order to learn more about how (inter)subjective attitudes are expressed in natural language. 


Disruptions in theory of mind faculties and perspective taking abilities are widely thought to be crucial to schizophrenic symptomology (e.g. Fuchs and Röhricht, 2017). In this talk, I demonstrate the use of a cognitive linguistic framework to analyze spontaneous perspective-taking in two corpora of stories told by people with a schizophrenia diagnosis. We elicited natural narrative language use through life story interviews and a guided storytelling task and analyzed the linguistic construal of viewpoint in these stories and found that our participants skillfully presented, navigated and embedded different narrative viewpoints. They presented complex viewpoints of other people in both the here-and-now of the interaction and the there-and-then of a narrative, and made use of transition markers to demarcate spatiotemporal discourse domains. We found no difference in viewpoint variables when comparing their guided stories to a control group. If problems with intersubjectivity and theory of mind are indeed an essential part of the disorder of ‘schizophrenia’, an explanation of how this group can take on and navigate complex linguistic viewpoints in natural narrative interaction is called for.

Lynn Eekhof

Talk title: "Reading Minds, Reading Stories: How social-cognitive abilities affect the processing of narratives"

Lynn Eekhof is a PhD student at Radboud University, she researches the connection between reading behaviours and social-cognitive abilities. Specifically, she is looking at linguistic features that activate social-cognitive processes and the role of individual differences between readers in the social-cognitive and linguistic processing of stories.


In my research, I combine insights from various different disciplines to study narrative processing not just as a linguistic phenomenon but also as a socio-psychological phenomenon. According to conceptualizations of narratives as “social simulations”, not only linguistic abilities but also social-cognitive abilities play an important role during the processing of narratives. To put this idea to the test, I conducted various studies to explore how individual differences in social cognition among neurotypical adults affect reading, specifically focusing on narrative viewpoint and perspective taking. In this presentation, I will show that social-cognitive abilities do indeed facilitate narrative processing, both at the micro level (lexical processing of viewpoint) and at the macro level (character engagement) and discuss what this means for the potentially bi-directional relationship between narratives and social cognition.