Some interesting research into what happens when we really empathize with a character in a fictional story:
Geoff Kaufman, our very own postdoctoral researcher, has just published his work on the effects of immersive fictional narrative on an individual’s behavior in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His research (with Lisa Libby, OSU) is attracting a lot of attention due to its potential for social change. In the series of studies, Geoff examined what happened to people who felt “experience-taking” while reading a fictional story. ”Experience-taking” is a phenomenon that occurs when readers find themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own. Geoff and his research team found that for certain situations, “experience-taking” can lead to behavioral or attitudinal changes in the readers.
One experiment found that people who went through “experience-taking” while reading about a character who was revealed to be of a different race or sexual orientation showed more favorable attitudes toward the other group and were less likely to stereotype.
According to Kaufman, when people are able to forget about themselves, their own self-concept, and self-identity while reading, they merge their own lives with those of the characters they’re reading about. ”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, ” argues Kaufman. For example, researchers found in one experiment that most college students were unable to undergo experience-taking if they were reading in a cubicle with a mirror.
One experiment 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.
When participants read a story told in first-person about a student at their own university, the students had the highest level of experience-taking. When asked later, 65 percent of these participants reported they voted on Election Day.
Meanwhile, of the participants who were in the condition of reading a story told in first-person about a student from a different university, only 29 percent of them reported voting. The researchers argue that sharing a group membership with a character from a story told in first-person voice facilitates the “experience-taking” of the character’s life events. After, the act of experience-taking can affect the individuals for days afterwards. The researchers argue that experience-taking is different from perspective-taking, in which readers may understand what the character is experience while maintaining a separate sense of self. The act of experience-taking is much more immersive, and unconsciously replaces the self with the character.
(Via Grand Text Auto)