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.”Reading a book is a pleasure like no other.
You remember the first time you lost yourself in a great book. The characters, action, and setting put you in another place that the researchers above call "experience-taking."
Many contend that they know some fictional characters from books better than any real person. You can't enter the mind of even someone you've known forever. In fiction you can.
My first experience-taking happened with Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, where I was so taken in that I even dreamt the story at night. I could feel the relationships and emotions in the novel.
While my focus here is not strictly on sex, but on power in reading, sex is a potent diversion. Other research points specifically to erotic novels, their popularity with women, and the effects on them.
The science behind the sex
In "Erotic novels arouse vicarious sexual experiences," the author points out that it is through empathy that we experience what the characters do in some cases:
thecognitive effects of what the author pejoratively terms "smut," erotic novels like E L James Fifty Shades of Grey. [It further states] that sexual experiences in erotic novels simulate, through empathy, the same brain areas in the reader that are triggered with real sex. Scientists are actually able to measure brain activity through fMRI and other techniques. Studies also demonstrate that women experience this effect more intensely than men.
The experience-taking is what makes fiction so powerful and pleasurable, and now I am not referring just to sex. I good book takes us to a different life, appealing for many reason. Moving away from erotica, reading is a unique learning and expanding experience because great books can:
- Engage our imagination and creativity, developing the skills.
- Provide us with vicarious experiences that are both pleasurable and painful, or you might say life experiences.
- Plot an escape for us from reality.
- Teach and engage us in thought on a subconscious level.
- Allow us to experience unique - times, places, worlds, people, and anything an author can dream up.
- Help us to feel more empathy for people in real life.
- Expand our thinking (I have witnessed many students awaken to the fact that they are racist by reading Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. They changed).
- Appreciate other cultures and change the way we act
- Make us better thinkers and writers.
- Make us free.
Thoreau noticed the power of reading to move him to action:
A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.In whatever form, books are eternal.
Henry David Thoreau
I have been motivated to focus on reading this week for this reason: books have the power to change and motivate action as Thoreau says.
Most importantly, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery as a piece of property and taught himself how to read. He later said:
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
― Frederick Douglass
Read because it makes you free. Or, read because it gets you off. It's through the empowering characteristics of reading that we access the best life has to offer human beings.
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Let us know what your reasons for reading are. Why do you bother?