Sunday, May 20, 2012

You are What you Read

In last week's Field Trip Friday blog post over at YA Highway, there was a link to a study which revealed, you are what you read. Here's a quote from the article:

"Readers who identify with fictional characters are prone to subconsciously adopt their behaviour, new data shows."

On Monday of last week, I shared 10 random facts about myself. One of those random facts was this:

"I didn't realize it at first, but looking back, I seem to have learned more about how to deal with tough situations in my life from characters in books than I have from anywhere else."

It's so weird how sometimes, certain topics in the news, on the blogs I read, or anywhere I might happen to look, really seem to correlate with exactly what I'm thinking about at the moment. I'm sure it's really more about me noticing those topics more than usual since they're on my mind, but still. It's weird.

Kahlan Amnell (Sword of Truth)
So this article got me thinking about the books I choose to read. And the way my personality has developed over my lifetime. And how we're all so different, even from the people who are the closest to us. I'll spare you the details, but this article really  made me think about myself from a whole new perspective. And even though I knew that books have influenced my life and the person I am, I never really thought of that in the way the research presents it - that I basically experienced the emotions and feelings of fictional characters as if they were my own.

Now I'm thinking, I should probably diversify my reading a bit before the only place I'll ever fit in is a medieval, alternate reality where I'll use my rare magic abilities to embark upon an epic journey to save the last living dragons from enslavement by a mad king who wants to use them to rule the world. Or something like that. I also don't know if I want to start reading anything told from the perspective of an unlikable narrator. I sure wouldn't want to find that I relate to him or her on some level and then start adopting their behavior.

I probably also need to re-think my obsession with Dexter. Just in case this research extends to TV too.

So, what about you? Do you think that the books you've read have affected your behavior? Has it gone further than that and affected your morals (I can certainly see where certain fantasy series have affected the way I see right and wrong and my own personal idea of honor)?


  1. I believe fiction enhances a person's empathetic abilities by exposing them to situations they wouldn't necessarily experience in their own life.

    For instance: shame and anger after making a bad decision. The reader sees that in a character and understands why someone who's done something wrong might react with anger.

    But that doesn't mean the reader would also absorb bad decision-making skills....Do you see what I'm saying?

    1. That's true - and I am glad that I can read about situations I haven't personally experienced and better understand people who have through the reading experience. But I wonder too if I subconsciously catalogue those experiences in my mind as my own (emotionally anyways). I wonder, do I react to actual experiences in my life based on a combination of past experiences which I may or may not have experienced personally? Does that make any sense? haha.

    2. That does make sense. I think it's probably true that we react to real life based on both our real-life experiences and those experiences that we've had virtually, through fiction.

    3. The whole idea is kind of mind-blowing to me (I suppose it's a bit obvious in hindsight, but I never really considered it before).

  2. It's not often I identify with a particular character, as in, I don't think I've ever thought to myself, "This girl is JUST like me!"

    I think reading affects the thoughts I have. I'll often quote concepts I've read or begin thinking about topics in a different light because of a book. Most often they are topics that have already been in my mind, but an author phrases it ten times better than I ever could.

    1. I don't think I've ever read about a particular character who was just like me either. But, there's usually some particular trait I can identify with, and I definitely think that I can tend to bring that one trait out in myself more when I'm really into the character's story.

      There are some books (usually later books in a series where I've gotten completely involved and invested in the story) which make me feel like the events are a part of my life. Like, I might be on the verge of saying to my husband, "You won't believe what said/did/revealed about his/her past today!" And I think it's those books which might make me think about my own, real world through the eyes of the MC. Kinda freaky.

    2. Maybe I'm just an uninvolved reader, then. x3
      Sophomore year, we were introduced to this theory that the hero's journey is a timeless story because everyone secretly wants to be the hero.
      And I said,"Why would I want to be the hero? The hero goes through absolute hell. I pity the hero. Why the heck would I want to be Odysseus? His life sucks in this story."

    3. Or maybe I'm a hyper-involved reader? haha.

      I don't know if I agree either that everyone secretly wants to be the hero - it really depends on the writing and on which character(s) I can personally connect with the most. Sometimes, the villain can have such a great backstory and reason for being the way they are that I can end up empathizing more with him/her than with the hero.