Reading novels can change your life

Changing Beliefs and Behaviour Through Experience-Taking

G.F. Kaufman & L.K. Libby

Finally, some research to support what every fiction-fan knows, that readers will live vicariously through the narratives of well-developed lead characters.

“This immersive phenomenon of simulating the mindset and persona of a protagonist is what we refer to as experience-taking. Through experience-taking, readers lose themselves and assume the identity of the character, adopting the character’s thoughts , emotions, goals, traits, and actions and experiencing the narrative as though they were that character.”

Brecht knew that and didn’t like it, inventing Epic Theatre as a way to prevent audience identification with the bourgeois values of theatre and to be able to engage critically with topics and themes (ie. agendas) rather than characters. Muriel Spark knew it too, adopting a distancing technique that makes The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie all the more deliciously wicked.

But for teaching, where we are trying to manipulate and change in our ‘safe’ environments, it’s good to be able to point to research that supports simple but well crafted narratives as a means to affect change. As I continue to work on digital storytelling learning objects with single narratives told in the first person, I feel as though I have to defend myself and my prudent approach in the onslaught of data-, labour- and bandwidth-intensive ‘interactive digital storytelling‘ where every possible choice the reader (user?) makes needs to be pre-programmed under the illusion of reader(user?)-driven experiences.

Kaufman GF, Libby LK. Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking. Journal of Personality and Socical Psychology. 2012 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22448888.