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Have you ever read Harry Potter and wished that you were a student at Hogwarts, studying magic with Harry, Ron, and Hermione? Well, your wish might have partially come true, without you knowing it.

Hosted by: Hank Green

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Sources:
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797611415541
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055003

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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055003
Hank: How many times have you tried to wish yourself into your favorite fictional world? Like what if you were actually a student at Hogwarts playing Quidditch, and brewing potions? Well, good news! Turns out that reading Harry Potter could make your dream a reality and kind of turn you into a wizard... subconsciously.

Psychologists have found evidence that reading fiction or immersing yourself in a video game can slightly change how you define yourself and act, at least for a little while. In one study, 140 undergraduate students were asked to read a passage from either Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or Twilight before doing a version of the implicit associations test or IAT.

The IAT is one of the most common tests in Experimental Psychology. It's designed to reveal implicit bias, which is basically the unconscious associations you make between ideas. In this case the researchers wanted to know if readers started to lump themselves in with fictional characters social groups.

Here's how the IAT worked: the participants had to make split-second decisions and push buttons to sort words into one of two categories. In the first stage, one category included words like my and mine as well as wizard words like magic or potions. The other category had words like they or their and vampire words like fangs or undead. So you'd read a passage, then you'd sort the words as quickly and accurately as you could.

And then in the second stage the book words were swapped, so the my category had vampire words and the they category had wizard words. Sound a little confusing? That's kind of the point. The task is pretty tricky to get your head around at first, and it's even harder if your brain is subconsciously telling you to put wizard or vampire words into the me group.

By measuring your split second hesitations and sorting mistakes, psychologists can analyze what kinds of associations your brain is making. And in the study, the people who read Harry Potter found it harder to sort Wizarding concepts into the they category resulting in longer reaction times and more mistakes. The Twilight readers showed a similar pattern with vampire traits, and had an easier time sorting them with the me words.

So like you know that you're not a wizard or a vampire and that these characters are all fictional, but right after you read a book why the heck might your brain be subconsciously telling you otherwise?

To try and explain the authors came up with something called the narrative collective assimilation hypothesis. Basically it's the idea that we're psychologically adapted to take on characteristics of social groups we wish we could join, even if those social groups aren't real. This can boost your mood and give you a sense of belonging.

Now it turns out the fictional worlds and characters don't just have the power to affect how you think of yourself, some research has even shown that they can change how you act. One study used virtual reality to see whether or not stepping into the shoes of a superhero could actually make people act more like heroes in real life.

Seventy four participants were sorted into two groups. The first group could lift their arms over their head and take off into the virtual sky like Superman, while the other group flew by virtual helicopter, which is cool, but less cool. And then they were given one of two tasks, either to explore the simulated city, or to find a lost diabetic child who would appear nearby after three minutes.

After the simulation was over and the headsets came off, the researcher conducting the experiment thanked the participants for their time and then accidentally-on-purpose knocked over a pot of 15 pens while pretending to sort some papers. Every single person who donned Superman's cape swooped in to save the day by picking up those pens, no matter what tasks they had been given in the game. In fact, all of the superheroes picked up more pens on average than any of the people who experienced the helicopter ride, and six of the helicopter riders didn't even help at all!

The authors suggest that our superheroes might have acted this way because heroism and helping were pushed to the front of their minds and it shifted their sense of identity. Even though the experiment never even mentions the word superhero, something about being able to fly made people remember that yeah, they could be heroes sometimes. So why not save this experimenter, one pen at a time!

The fact that we can psychologically take on good characteristics from fictional situations is kind of amazing. It lets us find a sense of belonging in the stories we love, but it can also change how we interact with the world. So next time you sit down to read or re-re-read Harry Potter, and wish you could be a brave wizard, remember that somewhere in the back of your mind you kind of already are.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych brought to you by our very heroic patrons on Patreon. If you find yourself in a superhero simulator and you're flying up into the sky, maybe take a little bit of your mind and think "could I be heroic by helping more people get access to great science content on the internet" and then you can go to Patreon.com/SciShow, maybe help us out if you're able. If not, we are available here at SciShow Psych always with new cool things about your brain. You can subscribe at youtube.com/scishowpsych.
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