Reading books 'makes one vampires or wizards'

Psychologists at the University of Buffalo have found that this is because one not only feels like the characters one reads about but, psychologically speaking, becomes part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the experience.

The study also found that the sense of belonging that results from assimilating narratives provokes the same feelings of satisfaction and happiness one would have if one actually was part of the world described.

"Social connection is a strong, human need 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.

"In our subjects, this led to a reported increase in life satisfaction and positive mood, which are two primary outcomes of belonging," lead author Shira Gabriel said.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers asked 140 undergraduate students to read for 30 minutes from one of two popular books, 'Twilight' and 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'. Participants then completed questionnaires that tested their conscious and unconscious responses to the narratives.

As predicted, on both conscious and unconscious measures, participants who read 'Harry Potter' identified with the wizards and their world and those who read 'Twilight' identified with the vampires and the realm they inhabited.

Their subjects not only connected with the characters or groups they read about, however. They adopted behaviours, attitudes and traits that they could in reality approximate, leaving aside the bloodsucking and broomstick flying.

"This study suggests that books give us more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge ourselves in a fantasy world," Gabriel said.

She added: "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."

The findings have been published in the 'Psychological Science' journal.

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