Thursday, May 31, 2012

You Are What You Read

So says another article on research into the way fictional characters affect readers: You Are What You Read Identifying strongly with a character, according to this study, makes it likely that the reader will emulate that character in real life. The researchers maintain that emotional immersion in a character produced this effect on people they studied, though they concede they don’t know how long after the reading experience the effect lasts. So, if you identify with admirable, ethical characters, fiction can be good for you. On the other hand, suppose you are strongly attracted to a villain or antihero. In that case, we could suspect Plato was right, and fiction is bad for you. Either way, creating vivid characters seems to be a powerful act requiring great responsibility. What if you identify with a flawed, ethically mixed imaginary person, as many of the greatest characters in literature are? An admirer of Scarlett O’Hara might internalize her resourcefulness and strong will to survive or her singleminded selfishness. Suppose you love Clarice in the Hannibal Lecter novels? It would make a big difference whether you identify with her behavior in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or at the end of HANNIBAL. I have reservations about how reliably a laboratory study of such a complex experience as reading novels translates into long-term real-world effects. And I definitely have doubts that the effect of a character on a reader works simply and straightforwardly. Still, it’s interesting to contemplate this new evidence of the power of storytelling. Margaret L. Carter Carter's Crypt


  1. That title should have been "You Are What You Read"! I edited it by mistake and thought I'd changed it back. This new Blogger interface gets me all tangled up.

  2. Hah. I am what I read. On my bedside table right now is an Encyclopaedia and a Thesaurus and a book of Quotations.

    That probably makes me a Wordsmith.

    What's on your bedside table?

  3. By the way, Margaret, since you commented that the title ought to have been YOU ARE WHAT YOU READ, I went into Edit and fixed it for you.


  4. Thanks, Rowena! I did try to edit it back, but the second change didn't "take." I guess I'll get this new Blogger straight someday. And about then they'll change it again. :)