Imagine yourself as a character in one of your favorite novels. What would your life be like and how would you behave? It turns out that more people actually do this than you might think. In fact, a new study suggests that you might just be what you read.
This study was published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
. It found that when people get swept away by reading a work of fiction they begin to imitate the character or characters that they favor the most. This effect can take people in two different directions.
If your chosen literary figure is an upstanding conscientious citizen then it might just bring out the best in you. On the other hand, if the character you admire is in someway deviant then you may make excuses for his bad behavior. The study’s lead author, Geoff Kaufman and his co-author Lisa Libby, described the process of joining with a fictional character and beginning to share similar beliefs and thoughts. This term has been called “experience-taking” which the researchers found can have a strong impact on the life of the reader. It was unclear how long those changes would remain in effect.
One of the most interesting results of the study related to volunteers who read a story about a character who was gay. There were two versions of this story. In one version the readers found out that the character was gay at the beginning and in the other version the fact that this character was gay wasn’t revealed until the end. Those who received the information at the end of the story had more favorable feelings towards gays in general when questioned after the fact. It was hypothesized that those volunteers were not influenced by their own negative gay stereotypes. They were able to get to know the character and like him without judgment. Those who knew his sexual orientation earlier were somehow distanced from the character.
The researchers believed that this effect is only applicable to the written word. Movies and television place us in the role of spectator and we are less likely to envision ourselves in the role of the character.
Think about this the next time you find yourself immersed in the pages of a book. Are there traits about your favorite character that you aspire to and if so, is that a good thing?
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