Fictional Characters Influence Real Life Decisions

AtlasShruggedHave you ever had the experience of stepping away from a novel and finding yourself thinking a little bit like the main character would? I’ve often described the feeling as being a little “book-drunk”, but I usually only experience it with really great novels. It seems to be worse when I read all or most of a book in one session.

According to a story over at GalleyCat, scientists have completed a study that verifies that this experience is a common one, and that the actions of fictional characters can actually influence the decisions we make – whether we consciously realize it or not. They call the phenomena “experience-taking”, and it’s very real.

Researchers exposed students to stories about students voting told in third-person and first-person tense, both written to encourage voting, and followed up later to see which group had the highest number of students who went to the poll.

Here’s what they found:

The results showed that participants who read a story told in first-person, about a student at their own university, had the highest level of experience-taking. And a full 65 percent of these participants reported they voted on Election Day, when they were asked later. In comparison, only 29 percent of the participants voted if they read the first-person story about a student from a different university.

This would seem to imply a lot of wonderful and potentially scary potential for something I’ve often referred to as “weaponized narrative”. Fiction for self-transformation can and does improve the lives of men and women (see also “narrative psychology” and memetics) but it could be just as easily used to influence behavior in ways that benefit state and non-state actors. Apparently, Darpa is already investigating such applications.

9 Comments on "Fictional Characters Influence Real Life Decisions"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | May 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm |

    To the extent that our experiences are embodied in our memories–which have been scientifically proven pretty poor objective records of factual reality–we are all fictional characters.

    • Giggle Head | May 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |

       Without truth, what else could we be? My life is a lie.

    • Charlotte | May 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm |

      All the more reason to get to work writing a super-awesome story about yourself…within reason. Only embellish on things that can’t be verified, for example…tell it enough, and you’ll also forget which is truth and lies…

  2. DeepCough | May 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm |

    Well, this certainly explains why Dubya claimed “God told [him] to strike Iraq.”

  3. Selmas_gotten_loose | May 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm |

    “Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the desired result in audience attitudes.”
    There is a stigma to the word for many obvious reasons but propaganda also tells us how to eat healthier, how to improve socio-economic status, what toothpaste doesn’t make holes in our Ozone layer, etc. 

    There are voices using media to improve conditions on this planet, even if at times it looks bleak. Just listen to the voices that not only point out problems but offer solutions, and never stop reading.

  4. Duh.. if they didn’t we wouldn’t have Muslims, Christians or Jews.

  5. Why the Atlas Shrugged? It’s a work of fiction, a laughable work at that. I certainly would not be happy if it leaked into real life. It’s not a book to be tossed aside lightly, it’s one to be thrown with great force.

  6. People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden…..

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