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Culture & Religion

How Reading Expands the Sense of Self

When we read, we feel a real human connection without engaging in real relationships. “Something else important must be happening,” says psychology professor Shira Gabriel.

What’s the Latest Development?

New psychological research out of the University of Buffalo demonstrates how, “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.” Experiments conducted by the research team indicated that after reading books like Harry Potter and Twilight, subjects felt themselves to be more closely associated with the community of characters in the books. “Belonging” to these communities, although they are make-believe, gave subjects feelings of satisfaction associated with having real human relationships. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Our individual need to be connected with a community means identifying ourselves with the characteristics shared by a group of people, whether it is family, workmates, school friends, etc. Preferring to think of one’s self as individual and something stronger than a group’s influence is incompatible with truly engaging people as a group. What is surprising is that we can effectively engage with imaginary groups. More surprising still, we identify ourselves with imaginary groups even if they are composed of wizards and vampires. Our need for belonging is both deep-seated and highly creative. 


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