Books have the power to change us—but not just in our minds, apparently. (via If We Are What We Read, Who Are We, Exactly? - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire)
- According to research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologyby Geoff Kaufman of Tiltfactor Laboratories at Dartmouth College and Lisa Libby of Ohio State, the act of reading of and identifying with a fictional character means also that we tend to subconsciously adopt their behavior. In reading about our favorite characters, we may actually become more like them.
- This theory is based in “experience-taking,” which is “the imaginative process of spontaneously assuming the identity of a character in a narrative and simulating that character’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, goals, and traits as if they were one’s own,” per Kaufman and Libby’s study. The two ran six experiments to see how and when experience-taking occurred in readers. It turned out to be strongest in first-person narratives depicting “ingroup” (i.e., like the reader) characters. In books that depicted “outgroup” characters—the examples used in the research were a “homosexual or African American” character—there was greater experience-taking when those “outgroup” character identities were revealed later rather than early on. Delaying that identity, Kaufman and Libby found, kept readers from applying stereotypes in their evaluations of said characters and led to more favorable attitudes about them.
- This research is interesting in lieu of the recent racist response to two key characters, Rue and Cinna, inThe Hunger Games. Collins identifies both of them as black—you find out Rue has “dark brown skin and eyes” on page 45 in the book, and Cinna around the same time, both at their first meetings with Katniss. Had readers who reacted so poorly to the information found out the color of their skin later, would their reactions have been different? Hard to say, especially as many of those readers simply ignored the details and were shocked to find out later, in the movie, that Rue was black. Further, in the overall context of literature, ”white” still remains largely a default race—that is not dealt with in this recent research.
All those stupid books I read when I was a kid. Esp. Dumas!