‘You Are What You Read’ Gives Parents More Reason To Keep Strong Female Characters On Bookshelves

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Sexist LEGOs and complacent princesses may give kids one narrative of how to be a girl, but stories like that of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games certainly provide another. So for every materialistic book that tells impressionable girls that the key to happiness is meeting guys who buy you lots of crap, the damage manifests, which is further evidenced in a study that keeps to the line of logic “you are what you read.”

According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers discovered that fiction is quite powerful in that “your behavior and thoughts can metamorphose to match those of your favorite character.” Lovers of books and voracious readers may not be surprised to learn that identifying with a protagonist can inspire personal changes in one’s own life.

Unlike watching films, which also contain powerfully influential narratives, reading books has a tendency to absorb the reader through the experience rather than having them function as a spectator:

[Geoff Kaufman] and his co-author Lisa Libby of Ohio State University suspected that when people read a fictional story they vicariously experience their favorite character’s emotions, thoughts and beliefs in a process that’s been dubbed “experience-taking.” Kaufman and Libby found that experience-taking can lead to real changes in the lives of readers.

Through a series of studies in which readers were questioned following a read of certain plot-specific books, coupled with identification with one of the characters, researchers noted a personal impact. They remain unsure if this influence is short-term or long-term. Nevertheless, the early look into the influence of a bookshelf means a world of difference to parents looking to raise confident, independent girls — and sons who are able to view girls as such. So balance out those Barbie story books with some notable women of history to ensure that your daughter identifies with not only just docile princesses, but leaders. Goodness know that they don’t always intersect.