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What happens to you when you read?
What happens to you when you read?

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9 What did reading do to you?

You have now had a go at reading activities that illustrate two of the psychological processes that can mean you become really, closely involved in a book: identification and transportation. In terms of the psychological research, the story does not end here, however. Psychologists have shown that the processes associated with engaging with narratives can do some fairly impressive things to people. You have already heard that such processes can improve empathic responding to other people, but given what you now know about identification and transportation, and to find out more, you’re now going to undertake an activity to see where you think these processes may lead.

Activity 8 The potential impacts of story

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes for this activity.

In the following list, select the effects that you think research has shown can happen as a result of reading or listening to stories. Which of the following sound plausible to you?

1. Reading a story might make someone more likely to be helpful to others e.g. help them pick up pens if they dropped them in the office.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Johnson (2011) showed that after a reading intervention highly transported individuals were more likely to help the experimenter pick up pens that they dropped (on purpose) during the research study.

2. Improve the behaviour between two ethnic minority groups after extreme intergroup conflict such as a genocide.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Paluk (2009) used a radio show soap opera in Rwanda to change behaviours (ie co-operation and communication) from one group to another after a genocide.

3. Make people who read about vampires estimate their own teeth as being longer than other people’s.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Gabriel and Young (2011) found that reading from the book Twilight made people psychologically assimilate the characteristics of the group they read about. To an extent therefore they argued their research participants ‘became’ the group they read about.

4. Make us agree that eating chocolate makes us lose weight.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Wheeler Green and Brock (1999) found that if presented in a story people would accept false statements like this, alongside others such as ‘most forms of mental illness are contagious’.

5. Understand the mental states of other people better.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Kidd and Castano (2013) found that reading enhanced people’s ‘Theory of Mind’ which is the skill vital to human society of understanding what other people might be thinking.

6. Feel happier in general and more satisfied with life.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Gabriel and Young (2011) found the more people felt they were similar to either wizards (if they read Harry Potter) or Vampires (if they read Twilight) the more positive they felt and the more satisfied they felt with their lives.

7. Feel less lonely.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. Shedlosky-Shoemaker, Costabile & Arkin (2014) found that individuals created meaningful relationships with characters they read about, bringing them a feeling of psychological closeness with the characters.

8. Make us feel a romantic attraction to the storyteller.

a. 

yes


b. 

no


The correct answer is a.

Answer

Yes this is true. However, the effect only seems to happen when the storyteller is male, and when referring to long term, as opposed to short term, dating partners. Donahue and Green (2016) found in a series of studies that storytelling ability in males seemed to help males attract long term partners and they suggested this was because story telling ability seems to increase their status (as perceived by potential partners).

However surprising it may seem, all of the statements above have been proven to be true through research.

Now you have learned about the impact that reading can have on you, in the next section you will look at how the idea that books can provide comfort in difficult times is not a new one at all. In fact, books have been used this way for a long time throughout history.