A college professor once told me that when you’re young, reading fiction can count as life experience. But what if the characters molding your impressionable mind aren’t exactly exemplars of upstanding behavior? New research from Ohio State University suggests that readers may model their actions after the people they read about: “When you ‘lose yourself’ inside the world of a fictional character while reading a story, you may actually end up changing your own behavior and thoughts to match that of the character.”
That explains so much. When I was in first grade, I used to check out old Peanuts collections from the library, and I actually believe ne’er-do-well Charlie Brown turned me into a more-despondent-than-average child. A bit later, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter made me realize being a super-overachiever was a power in itself. In the second half of high school I totally became that know-it-all with my hand in the air who memorized notes and pouted over grades that weren’t A+s. (My college applications thank you, J.K. Rowling. My social life, on the other hand…) On a disturbing note, I remember thinking Patrick Bateman was kind of cool when I read American Psycho in junior high. I mean, I didn’t want to murder hookers while listening to Phil Collins, but that character taught me something about dark humor and cheesy pop culture references. (I re-read the novel recently and had a completely different takeaway.)
What literary heroes or anti-heroes made you change your behavior?