Reading Just Might Change Your Behavior

Most of us agree that our children should read more, and that reading is good for them for many reasons. Now, there might just be a new reason to encourage them to pick up that book.  Researchers at Ohio State University, including co-author Lisa Libby, have found that people who get involved in their books may change their behavior to match the behavior of a favorite character. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While the effects haven’t been tested in all areas as of yet, they have been tested on voting habits.  The researchers have coined the term “experience-taking” in relation to readers who take on the emotions, thoughts and beliefs of characters. In one experiment, for instance, they found that readers who strongly identified with a character who managed to vote despite many obstacles went on to vote in a real election just a few days later at a higher frequency than the regular average. 82 undergraduates were asked to read a one of four versions of a story about someone who overcame the odds to vote. They read it just a few days before the 2008 November presidential election.

The results showed that the students who read the story in first-person and about a student from their own university were more likely to have experience-taking. 65% of these participants then voted on Election Day. In contrast, only 29% of those who read the first-person story about someone from a different university went out to vote.

As co-author Libby explained,

“Experience-taking can be a powerful way to change our behavior and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways.”

Graduate student Geoff Kaufman, who led the study, explained that, “Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes.”