Almost every reader will admit to an auditory companion or two who has stuck around long after they've finished a book. Some may have heard Elizabeth Bennet's wry social observations the next time they were faced with a particularly brutal Starbucks line; others may report interactions colored by Scout Finch's elegantly compassionate takes on race and adulthood. If this sounds familiar, you're certainly not alone. A recent study has found that 20 percent of readers "hear" the voices of characters, even after their story is over.
Like, as if you needed another reason to love books, right?
Throughout 2014, 1,566 people participated in an online survey regarding their interaction with fictional characters, with 413 providing specific, in-depth descriptions. The poll, supported in part by The Guardian, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, was led by several researchers from Durham University's psychology and English departments, in an attempt to more intimately understand what could, in some cases, be termed a sort of "literary hallucination." How and why do we interact with fictional characters? To what extent to these hallucinations color our lives?
Their findings have been published in the March edition of Consciousness and Cognition, and have led to the coining of several new terms, including "experiential crossing over," which they define as "instances of voices and characters being experienced beyond the immediate context of reading," and "mindstyle," which describes our individual, internal dissection of the world around us.
Will I be integrating both of those words into my vocabulary starting right this minute? Uh, duh.
The participants' questionnaire was divided into two parts. The first asked readers to recount instances of voices and interaction with characters when reading, and the second delved into their "inner speech" habits. Each asked the person to rank on a scale from "Very Hard" to "Very Easy," for example, "How easy do you find it to imagine a character’s voice when reading?"
The researchers also dug into what form the voices took. Were they the narrator or a character's? Did they speak in complete sentences, or fragments? When they appeared after you'd finished the book, did they repeat lines or ~improv~ some bits?
Though the researchers do note several limitations to their findings - namely, that almost 75 percent were women with a higher amount of education and a noted preference for fiction - their findings have shed light on a phenomenon that most readers are already intimately familiar with, and prove to further illustrate how and why those of us dedicated to literature can come to love certain characters so deeply.