This Is Your Brain On Books: Can Fiction Affect Your Real Life?
Ever read American Psycho one too many times and start to lose touch with humanity? Well, you're (probably) not crazy—the effect is a legitimate psychological process called "experience taking." This is a method by which people, while reading a fictional story, find themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own—and Ohio State University researchers recently looked into the topic and found surprising results (albeit with slightly more benign reading material).
In one test, researchers found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame obstacles to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election several days later. In another, people reading about a character who was later revealed to be of a different race or sexual orientation showed more favorable attitudes toward the other group and were less likely to stereotype.
While the effects they measured were temporary (a relief for those of us with a penchant for Bret Easton Ellis novels), the study still speaks volumes on the persuasive power of literature and human emotional experiences—and provides insight into story structure and narration. Their findings appear online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and will be published in a future print edition. You can read the official release here.
Photo via Cyclopes-Photo.com
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