One in five readers have a character’s voice in their head after they’ve read a book

Have you ever felt your thoughts or actions were influenced by a character in the book you’re reading? Congratulations, you’ve had experiential crossing

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By Amy Jones on

A brief for a news piece to write! Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot…

Sorry. I’ve just finished reading The Sign of The Four, and now I can only think in Sherlock Holmes’s voice. Before you start worrying about my sanity, this is apparently entirely normal. A study from Durham University shows that about one in five readers feel like the voices of fictional characters stay with them after they stop reading, influencing their thoughts or even talking to them.

Psychologist Charles Fernyhough, one of the authors of the study, described this experience as “experiential crossing.” It varies in intensity from person to person, with some people just hearing a character’s voice and others finding the way they think and behave actively changing to more closely align with a character’s. Some of the people studied said that it felt like characters were narrating their world, and others couldn’t help but imagine them reacting to things going on in the world around them – and I have to admit, imagining how Holly Golightly would react to Donald Trump would lighten things up somewhat. 

I’ve experienced this for most of my life, and I get it with TV and film too. Whenever I watch Green Wing, for example, my internal monologue is in Sue White’s accent and personality for a week or so afterwards. I always thought I was weird, but when I brought this up in the office I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Caroline read Brideshead Revisted and “dressed like a gay aristocrat for a month afterwards. I only wore slacks, weird patent golf shoes and a Harrods cardi from the 70s.” Lily said that she read a book when she was a kid “where the protagonist called her parents mutti and vati. Despite not being German at all I called my parents that for six months” and whenever Alex reads Nora Ephron, she starts thinking in the way Ephron writes.

How great would it be to have a lovely chilled-out bear hanging out with you and talking about honey?

There is clearly a benefit to thinking like an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, but I imagine that if you got the wrong voice stuck in your head that could cause some issues. Here are some of the best and worst characters I think you could have experiential crossing with.

The best

Atticus Finch
Just imagine dealing with far-right idiots on Twitter when you’ve got Atticus telling you what to say. You’d be so righteous. So calm. So undeniably right. So fucking cool

Katniss Everdeen
Same as above, but instead of being righteous and calm you’d be full of indignant fury that would scare away any trolls. And if all else fails you could shoot them in the arse with an arrow

Winnie the Pooh
How great would it be to have a lovely chilled-out bear hanging out with you and talking about honey? 

Miss Marple
I feel like life would be so much more fun with a nosy, sharp old lady in your head solving crimes with you. Think of the office affairs you’d rumble. And you’d finally learn which of your neighbours was putting their rubbish in your wheelie bin

The worst

“To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there's the rub, for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?” “I know, Hamsy, but it’s 2am and I’ve got to give a big presentation to the marketing lot tomorrow, so…”

Bridget Jones
I already have enough trouble deciding what to get for lunch without Bridget fretting about the calorific content of everything on the shelf and wondering whether the man behind the counter wants to shag me

Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix
So much angst. Imagine how much harder it would be to cope with a traffic jam when you’ve got Harry at his whiniest raging in your head

Anastasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey
Life is complicated enough without your inner goddess dancing, frowning at you, shivering with excitement and otherwise generally getting in the way


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