Jan 07 2015
Comments Off on Readers make “friends” with characters in books

Readers make “friends” with characters in books

Just like when we connect with people in real life, our brains connect with the characters we like best in books. Photo by Flickr user Tim Geers (Creative Commons license).

Just like when we connect with people in real life, our brains connect with the characters we like best in books. Photo by Flickr user Tim Geers (Creative Commons license).

I recently read an article via Slate that studies how and why readers become (or don’t become) emotionally invested in the books they’re reading. We know that cliffhangers between chapters can keep us reading, and how important it is to create a main character with whom readers can relate or at least sympathize.

The fascinating thing about the article, though, is its conclusion that we “get to know” and “build relationships with” the characters and speakers in books in the same way that we do in real life:

“There is also a natural process that changes the brain over time as we get to know a person. It’s a large part of the engine behind friendship. If you just meet me once at a party, you’ll probably forget me afterward or remember just a couple of funny, interesting, or strange things I said. But if you spend lots of time with me, you’ll grow brain structures devoted to simulating me and predicting my behavior.”

The article’s author suggests that when we identify with a character in a book, our minds begin simulating that character even after we’re done reading. In other words, the brain structures that “learn” the preferences, dislikes, and traits of our friends and family are working similarly to imprint our favorite literary figures in our minds.

So the next time someone says she’s finished a great book and feels like she’s lost a friend, you can say, “You did, but at least you can go back and visit.”

What literary character have you most identified with as a reader?