Experience Taking: How You Subconsciously Become Your Favorite Fictional Characters

The folks over at MedicalDaily.com have uncovered something really interesting!

Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters

Psychologists have discovered that while reading a book or story, people are prone to subconsciously adopt their behavior, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses to that of fictional characters as if they were their own.

Experts have dubbed this subconscious phenomenon ‘experience-taking,’ where people actually change their own behaviors and thoughts to match those of a fictional character that they can identify with.

(Severus Snape, from the Harry Potter books)

Researcher from the Ohio State University conducted a series of six different experiments on about 500 participants, reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that in the right situations, ‘experience-taking,’ may lead to temporary real world changes in the lives of readers.

They found that stories written in the first-person can temporarily transform the way readers view the world, themselves and other social groups.

(Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Psychologists also found that it was critical for the story to reveal characteristics shared by the reader earlier rather than later for ‘experience-taking’ to take effect.

“The early revelation of the group membership seemed to highlight the difference between readers and the character, and made it more difficult for readers to step into the character’s shoes,” researchers wrote in the report.

(The Mad Hatter, from Alice in Wonderland)

The environment also played a major role in determining whether participants will engage in ‘experience-taking,’ according to the researcher.

In an experiment which required participants to read in front of a mirror, researchers reported that fewer readers were able to undergo ‘experience-taking’ because they were constantly reminded of their own self-concept and self-identity.

Researchers said that ‘experience-taking’ can only happen when readers are able to in a way forget about themselves and their own self-concept and self-identity when reading.

(Long John Silver, from Treasure Island)

“The more you’re reminded of your own personal identity, the less likely you’ll be able to take on a character’s identity,” Kaufman said in a news release. “You have to be able to take yourself out of the picture, and really lose yourself in the book in order to have this authentic experience of taking on a character’s identity.”

In contrast, watching a movie does not require viewers to engage any more than as a spectator, which would limit the ability of putting themselves in the shoes of fictional characters.

“Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process,” Libby said, adding that the phenomenon could have powerful, if not lasting, effects.

“If you can get people to relate to characters in this way, you might really open up their horizons, getting them to relate to social groups that maybe they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Libby told the Edmonton Journal.

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2 comments on “Experience Taking: How You Subconsciously Become Your Favorite Fictional Characters

  1. Jazz says:

    Pffft, I could’ve told them that. Why do they think we read?

    I wonder how much they were paid for that little bit of research.

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