Finding Yourself by Losing Yourself in Fiction

I’ve mentioned before how I sometime sit in the dark, drinking whiskey, wondering whether this whole “fiction thing” has any redeeming social value.

Well, looks like I have even MORE reason to be hopeful that fiction–the lie that tells the truth–can actually make positive change in people’s lives.

Researchers at Ohio State University examined what happened to people who, while reading a fictional story, found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own–a phenomenon the researchers call “experience-taking.”

They found that, in the right situations, experience-taking may lead to real changes, if only temporary, in the lives of readers.

One of the researchers said experience-taking is different from perspective-taking, where people try to understand what another person is going though in a particular situation, but without losing sight of their own identity.

“Experience-taking is much more immersive–you’ve replaced yourself with the other,” she said.

The key is that experience-taking is spontaneous – you don’t have to direct people to do it, but it happens naturally under the right circumstance.

– S.

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