U. BUFFALO (US) — Want a sense of belonging? Sinking your teeth into a good book satisfies a deeply held need for human connection.
A new study finds that readers not only feel like the characters, but psychologically speaking, actually become part of their world, experiencing feelings of satisfaction and happiness.
“Social connection is a strong, human need,” says Shira Gabriel, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, “and anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general, and feel good about our lives. Our study results demonstrate that the assimilation of a narrative allows us to feel close to others in the comfort of our own space and at our own convenience.
For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, Gabriel and graduate student Ariana Young asked 140 undergraduate students to read for 30 minutes from either Twilight or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Participants then completed a series of questionnaires that tested their conscious and unconscious responses to the narratives.
Both conscious and unconscious measures showed that participants not only identified with characters in the book, but also adopted the behaviors, attitudes, and traits that they could realistically approximate, bloodsucking and broomstick flying notwithstanding.
This study suggests that books give us more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge ourselves in a fantasy world, Gabriel says.
“They give us a chance to feel like we belong to something bigger than us and to reap the benefits that result from being a part of that larger realm without having a ‘real’ social encounter.
“When we enter the narrative (whether through a book, movie, radio, or television show), we don’t ‘become’ Harry or Edward, of course, but we do become a member of their world. That feels really good and it changes us.”
“Research has found that when we are with a group of our ‘real’ friends, we shift our behavior to be more like them,” Young says. “We now know that this occurs when we read a book, as well.”
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