Personality changes in teens could be linked to reading habits - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Personality changes in teens could be linked to reading habits

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New research from Ohio State University claims -- we are what we read.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found fiction readers actually altered their emotions and behavior to match their favorite characters.

Scientists aren't exactly sure how long this transformation lasts, but it does makes you wonder about all the books collecting dust on the bookshelves in your home.

We've often heard -- you can't judge a book by its cover, but researchers say a story might tell something about its reader.

Dr. Mark West is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He says if a person habitually reads fiction, its likely a way for them to flee their own reality.

"It takes you out of your world and puts you into a more exciting world, it's a sense of escape essentially," West said.

The Ohio State University study suggests people don't just get lost in a novel.

Sometimes, they actually adopt different behaviors, thoughts and feelings to match made-up characters in the books they read. 

This process is called ‘experience taking' and scientists believe it can lead to real changes in a reader's life or personality. 

Psychologists say readers who transform themselves around a tall-tale are likely to have a case of missing identity.

"They're adrift in the world and they're looking for a place to anchor themselves," said Psychologist Bob Barret.

This could be a positive thing if the story's hero or heroine is brave, wise and noble.

It may not be so good for a reader who develops a deep connection to a character with a bad personality who conquers and kills.

In fact, it could motivate the reader to sympathize, justify, or even mimic an evil mind.

Barret said some readers might associate with a bad character because it allows the reader to "to express anger they tend to repress."

The danger, Barret says, is that this might cause a reader to "over-identify with and act out in the world in ways that are inappropriate or destructive."

Barret says this usually only happens in extreme cases, perhaps, involving someone suffering from mental illness.

Nevertheless, if parents detect any degree of change in their child or teen's personality, parents might want to examine the books their children are reading.

Dr. West says that's particularly important if most of the books your child reads are filled with death, drama and slaying demons.

"Who wouldn't want to do that instead of finishing Algebra," West asked.

Instead of taking away books from a child a parent might think are negative influences, West recommends they add other books to their child's collection.

By introducing them to a myriad of heroes and villains, it will allow them to develop their imagination and give them different identities to examine.   

The same advice applies to adults including those who are addicted to red-hot romance novels.

Experts say fictional personas and story plots should remain on the pages of the books you read and not acted out in real life.

A little mental role playing is safe because it offers a temporary escape to a far off place before having to return back to our homework, household chores or work.  

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:

The following information is from an article entitled "You are what you read, study suggests" published by NBCNews.com <http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/13/11665205-you-are-what-you-read-study-suggests?lite >.

  • Your behavior and thoughts can metamorphose to match those of your favorite character.
  • The research cited was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • As an example, the writer of the article mentions the fictional character Atticus Finch in the book To Kill a Mockingbird could be a model for ethical behavior.
  • However, fiction reading can have a dark side. For example, in American Psycho, the lead character is a serial killer. If a reader connects with him, they may try to understand or justify his actions.
  • People vicariously experience the emotions, thoughts and beliefs of a fictional character through a process called "experience-taking" which leads to real changes in people's lives.
  • Researchers don't know how long these changes could last.
  • The stronger the connection with a fictional character, the longer the change.
  • Re-reading a book strengthens the change that may occur in a reader's persona.
  • The researchers ran several experiments and found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame many obstacles in order to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election days later than volunteers who read a different story.
  • In another experiment, readers who learned a hero was gay at the end of the story had more positive feelings about gays later on. Researchers think that's because they got to know the character and connect with him before stereotypes could cloud their impression.
  • The researchers believe the fiction-effect only comes with written words since movies make viewers spectators instead of forcing them to use their imaginations.

The following information is from an article entitled "'Losing Yourself' in a Fictional Character Can Affect Your Real Life" published by Science Daily <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm>.

  • This research was conducted at Ohio State University.
  • Experience-taking doesn't happen all the time. It only occurs when people are able, in a sense, to forget about themselves and their own self-concept and self-identity while reading.
  • In one experiment, for example, the researchers found that most college students were unable to undergo experience-taking if they were reading in a cubicle with a mirror, likely because they were being reminded of their own identity.
  • In the voting study, 82 undergraduates who were registered and eligible to vote were assigned to read one of four versions of a short story about a student enduring several obstacles on the morning of Election Day before voting. Participants who read a story told in first-person, about a student at their own university, had the highest level of experience-taking. And a full 65 percent of these participants reported they voted on Election Day, when they were asked later. In comparison, only 29 percent of the participants voted if they read the first-person story about a student from a different university.
  • The study was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to Kaufman.
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