Reading a good book immerses you in a character's world—and may change your views, according to a recent study at Ohio State University. Psychologists Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby assigned 78 heterosexual males to read one of three stories, two about a homosexual protagonist and one about a heterosexual protagonist. Afterward, the readers reported having no trouble identifying with the straight character, but their ability to relate to the gay protagonist varied based on when they discovered his orientation. Those who read a story in which the character was introduced as gay in the first paragraph did not connect to the character as strongly as those who learned of the character's orientation near the story's end. Most important, the latter group—the men who identified most with the gay protagonist—relied less on stereotypes to describe the character and reported more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in general. “Readers can emerge from a reading experience seeing the world, other people and themselves quite differently,” Kaufman says. The findings remind readers to think critically about their reactions to characters and to be aware of the power of prose.
This article was originally published with the title "You Are What You Read" in SA Mind 23, 4, 18 (September 2012)