For a few weeks now, I’ve been reading an amazing book by Cordelia Fine called Delusions of Gender (I was pacing myself with one chapter a day. I’ve finished it now). It’s actually about “the real science behind sex differences”, but there was one bit that related to writing so I thought I’d share.
In a recent series of experiments, Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University and his colleagues showed participants a photograph of someone: a cheerleader, a professor, an elderly man, or an African American man. In each case, some of the volunteers were asked to pretend to actually be the person in the photograph and to write about a typical day in the person’s life from a more dispassionate, third-person (he/she…) point of view…
Asked to rate their own traits after the exercise, those who had imagined themselves as a cheerleader rated themselves as more attractive, gorgeous and sexy, compared with controls. Those who imagined themselves as professors felt smarter, those who walked in the shoes of the elderly felt weaker and more dependent, and those who had temporarily lived life as an African American man rated themselves as more aggressive and athletic. Self-perception absorbed the stereotypical qualities of another social group.
This is interesting from a writer’s point of view, don’t you think? Given that we spend quite a chunk of time pretending to be someone else. I know in the past I’ve felt worried or stressed or upset and then, when I stopped to think about why, realised it wasn’t me who was worried/stressed/upset, it was whatever character I’d been writing about that day.
What do you think? Do you notice that you take on your characters’ traits when you’re writing?