I received a call this morning to do a last minute interview for ABC News on a recent article about “experience-taking”. Ohio State University published this article with the hypothesis that people who read (bookworms) have been shown to adopt the feelings, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of the fictional characters they are reading about. Basically, they’re taking cues from the books they’re reading and getting into character of those they have read about. Here are the notes I made before the interview:
From early childhood, reading is transformative. When preschool kids start reading they want to be that fireman, nurse, cowboy, or princess. How many kids do you see walking around with princess costumes or fireman hats? This identification with characters starts early and begins the development of empathy. For example, research shows when heterosexual men read a story with a homosexual hero, they begin to overcome stereotypes concerning their homosexual counterparts.
As children grow, this self-interactional experience of reading and identification continues to develop further. It becomes fully engaging and often changes group dynamics. That said, Harry Potter enactments create a group bond; Nancy Drew stories help young girls feel as though they can solve problems themselves. The Hunger Games engenders competition, but also feeds family loyalty. There is even a YouTube spoof called The College Games, about the competition engendered from getting into college.
This experience-taking effect can also be seen in Eat, Pray, Love and the Fifty Shades of Gray. I have clients who have done an Eat, Pray, Love experience, which transforms their lives. The phenomena of Fifty Shades of Grey is spicing up sex lives across the country. Like a young girl wanting to be a princess, these women are transformed by the experiences of the characters they are reading.