Reading fiction can influence behaviour

Reading works of fiction can have a marked influence on a person's behaviour. This is the suggestion of a new study from researchers at Ohio State University, which found individuals who lose themselves in the world of a character often alter their attitudes and thoughts to resemble those displayed by the made-up persona.

According to the investigation, 'experience-taking' - when people feel the emotions, beliefs and internal responses of those they are reading about - can lead to real changes in the lives of readers, if only for a limited time.

As part of the findings, which have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was shown that those who relate strongly to a character who works hard in order to be able to vote are more likely to take part in a poll themselves as a result.

Lisa Libby, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the learning institute, noted: "Experience-taking can be a powerful way to change our behaviour and thoughts in meaningful and beneficial ways."

Dr Peter Martin, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "This research ticks the boxes of both previous research and knowledge about identification, as well as what Polanyi calls tacit knowledge (that which we inwardly know but have not articulated).

"The role of heroes and anti-heroes in fiction allows us to make a trial identification. If the trial works well enough we either consciously or less consciously adapt our behaviour.

"I find myself thinking in the same cadence of a really good writer like Julian Barnes while in the midst of a book. Any pragmatic decisions need to be consciously disentangled from this thought form before I can act from within myself. Moral: don't go on an extended family camping trip immediately after reading Tess of the D'urbervilles!"