Washington: A new study has explained why we feel human connection, without real relationships, through reading.
University at Buffalo, SUNY psychologist Shira Gabriel and graduate student Ariana Young showed that when we read, we psychologically become part of the community described in the narrative—be they wizards or vampires.
That mechanism satisfies the deeply human, evolutionarily crucial, need for belonging.
The researchers recruited 140 undergraduates for the study. First the participants were assessed on the extent to which they meet their needs for connection by identifying with groups.
Then some read a passage from the novel Twilight in which the undead Edward describes what it feels like to be a vampire to his romantic interest Bella.
Others read a passage from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer``s Stone in which the Hogwarts students are separated into "houses" and Harry meets potions professor Severus Snape.
Participants were given 30 minutes to read the passage and were instructed to simply read for their own pleasure.
Then, two measures gauged the participants`` psychological affiliation with vampires or wizards.
As predicted, on both measures, Harry Potter readers "became" wizards and the Twilight readers "became" vampires.
In addition, participants who were more group-oriented in life showed the largest assimilation effects.
Finally, "belonging" to these fictional communities delivered the same mood and life satisfaction people get from affiliation with real-life groups.
"The study explains how this everyday phenomenon—reading—works not just for escape or education, but as something that fulfills a deep psychological need," said Young.
The study appeared in Psychological Science.