When reading a book, have you ever become so engrossed in the main character’s world that you begin to forget yourself? If so, psychologists at Ohio State University have shown that this may affect your real-life behaviour.
In one of the researchers' experiments, 82 undergraduates read a story about a student who had to overcome several obstacles (like car problems, rain and long queues) before being able to vote on Election Day. There were four versions of this story, written in either the first person (“I voted”) or third person (“Paul voted”), and featuring a student at either the same university as the participants, or a different university. Importantly, the study took place several days before the United States presidential election of 2008.
Having read the story, the students filled out a questionnaire to assess how immersed they became in the character. Those who read the first-person story about someone at their own university reported the highest level of immersion, and 65% of these participants actually ended up voting in the real-life election several days later.
On the other hand, the election attendance of those students who read the first-person story about a student from a different university was only 29%.
“When you share a group membership with a character from a story told in first-person voice, you’re much more likely to feel like you’re experiencing his or her life events,” says Dr Lisa Libby, co-author of the study. “And when you undergo this experience-taking, it can affect your behavior for days afterwards.”