You’ve probably heard readers say things like “Reading that book was like being in that world myself” or
“I was so wrapped up in the story that I lost track of time” or
“That’s the last book in the series?
I want to know more about those characters!”
In the very best sort of books, we lose sight of ourselves, our surroundings, our own troubles, as we immerse ourselves in someone else’s world and struggles and victories. It can be a realistic book or the highest fantasy, a short story or a tome as thick as your leg – if the story and characters feel real to us, then we are transported away from our own existence without moving at all.
A recent research study† also showed that reading a compelling story can also improve our own behavior and attitudes, even after our reading is done! “Feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own,” also known as “experience-taking” was studied by Ohio State University researchers in several reading experiments with college students.
OSU assistant professor Lisa Libby noted the difference between experience-taking and perspective-taking, which is more like looking through a window at someone else’s situation. “Experience-taking is much more immersive — you’ve replaced yourself with the other,” she said. With the right story, readers don’t feel like they are manipulated into being inside the character’s head. “Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process,” Libby said.
As you choose to read books with characters who are different from you, you’re giving yourself more ways become a more empathic person, more understanding of differences, more able to see other viewpoints than your own.
And what about reading books filled with people much like you? Then you have opportunities to “try on” their reactions to situations you may not have faced, to take their experiences and learn from them – without having to live through the troubles, trials, and joys yourself.
Here’s to “getting lost in a good book” and to finding our better selves along the way!
†Ohio State University (2012, May 7). ‘Losing yourself’ in a fictional character can affect your real life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm
Photo of man sitting on bookshelves reading a book: (c) Microsoft Office clipart.