Do you judge your friends by the books you see on the shelves in their home – and what they might recommend you to read?
If you do, you might well gain an insight into your friends’ inner-most personality – because according to a psychologist we are really what we read.
Writing in the magazine Scientific American Mind Keith Oatley, a British cognitive psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto says following a series of experiments he has seen how what we read can alter peoples’ emotions and character.
Your character might only change for a while but he does believe that ultimately your personality can also be subtly shaped by the books you read.
Oatley does not specify whether whether the sort of books we read as we grow up has any effect on our developing personalities. But brain scans show that when we read we identify with the protagonist – we feel the way they do and often when we’re really into a good book, we even feel we have performed the actions they have done. It might leave you therefore feeling more empathetic to others in the real world as you will have developed an insight you haven’t had before.
In a Sunday Times report, Oatley is also quoted as saying the myth of the lonely bookworm is indeed a myth. Indeed if you love fiction, you might have more friends than someone who doesn’t. “Individuals who read predominantly fiction were not lonely,” he says, “in fact they were were less socially isolated and had more social support than people who were largely non-fiction readers.”
He also says far from shunning human social ineraction, the solitary act of curling up with a good book is in fact an exercise in it.
Depending on what you are reading, you might finish your book feeling romantic or inspired and ready to take on the world. “It can hone your social brain, so that when you put your book down you may be better prepared for camaraderie, collaboration, even love,” he says.
What happens, however, if the book is dealing with darker issues? “Well, if you enter the fictional world, the reader is going to develop in thier own way – it will correspond to their views of right and wrong.”
He adds: “One can’t legislate against people who read a book and decide they’re going to kidnap someone.”
Oatley’s full research is due to be published later this year as will a book – The Passionate Muse, which examines emotion in literature.
Has any book changed the way you think – or even altered your personality in some way? Do you think you are what you read? Let us know your thoughts below…