BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bad news for muggle parents! A new study by
psychologists at the University at Buffalo finds that we more or
less "become" vampires or wizards just by reading about them.
The good news is that, although we might think our teeth are a
little sharper after a session with "Twilight," reading satisfies a
deeply felt need for human connection because we not only feel like
the characters we read about but, psychologically speaking, become
part of their world and derive emotional benefits from the
"Becoming a Vampire Without Being Bitten: The Narrative
Collective Assimilation Hypothesis," published in the current issue
journal Psychological Science, presents research supporting the
authors' hypothesis that by absorbing narratives, we can
psychologically become a member of the group of characters
described therein, a process that makes us feel connected to those
characters and their social world.
Authors Shira Gabriel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at
UB, and Ariana Young, a UB graduate student working in the field of
social psychology, also found that the sense of belonging that
results from assimilating narratives provokes the same feelings of
satisfaction and happiness we would have if we actually were part
of the world described.
"Social connection is a strong, human need," Gabriel says, "and
anytime we feel connected to others, we feel good in general, and
feel good about our lives. Our study results demonstrate that the
assimilation of a narrative allows us to feel close to others in
the comfort of our own space and at our own convenience.
"In our subjects, this led to a reported increase in life
satisfaction and positive mood, which are two primary outcomes of
belonging," she says.
To test their hypothesis Gabriel and Young asked 140 UB
undergraduate students to read for 30 minutes from one of two
popular books, "Twilight" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone." Participants then completed a series of questionnaires that
tested their conscious and unconscious responses to the
As predicted, on both conscious and unconscious measures,
participants who read "Harry Potter" identified with the wizards
and their world and those who read "Twilight" identified with the
vampires and the realm they inhabited.
Their subjects not only connected with the characters or groups
they read about, however. They adopted the behaviors, attitudes and
traits that they could realistically approximate, leaving aside the
bloodsucking and broomstick flying.
"This study suggests that books give us more than an opportunity
to tune out and submerge ourselves in a fantasy world," Gabriel
"They give us a chance to feel like we belong to something
bigger than us and to reap the benefits that result from being a
part of that larger realm without having a 'real' social
She says, "When we enter the narrative (whether through a book,
movie, radio or television show), we don't 'become' Harry or
Edward, of course, but we do become a member of their world. That
feels really good and it changes us."
"Research has found that when we are with a group of our 'real'
friends, we shift our behavior to be more like them. We now know
that this occurs when we read a book, as well," Young adds.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.