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Study finds that book characters really do stay with you

Finally, a reason to use this photo from Inkheart

Even though a lot of reading occurs on commutes, it’s not exactly a passive pastime. Our brains conjure all manner of voices and imagery to accompany the written word, and while these experiences may vary from one reader to another, the way they linger is apparently a shared sensation. The Guardian reports that a new overseas study has found that our internal narration and character voices often carry over into our real lives.

In a Durham University survey of more than 1,500 readers, 19 percent of them said “the voices of fictional characters stayed with them even when they weren’t reading, influencing the style and tone of their thoughts—or even speaking to them directly.” Some respondents said they continued to hear characters engaged in conversation, while others said they felt a voice was narrating their lives. We’ve all been there, but still other bookworms said that they felt their thoughts were being “shaped by a character’s ideas, sensibility or presence.”


Psychologist Charles Fernyhough, who co-authored the paper, describes the sense of characters staying with you as “experiential crossing,” and emphasizes the level of engagement when reading. “For many of us, this can involve experiencing the characters in a novel as people we can interact with,” Fernyhough said. “One in seven of our respondents, for example, said they heard the voices of fictional characters as clearly as if there was someone in the room with them.” This is nice if you’ve been reading something like Moral Origins, but a little more worrisome if you’ve picked up Fight Club.

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