From Kami M. McArthur via David Farland:
The stories that you read and the movies that you watch can have profound effects on you. Reading, and writing, are both immersive experiences.
In a recent study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to peer into the brains of people who read. Scientists found that when a person reads the word “bicycle,” for example, the area of the brain that controls the leg muscles used when riding a bike “light up.” Similarly, if you read a passage about eating a feast, the area that controls your chewing muscles will activate, while if you read a love scene, portions of your brains that recall emotions become excited. In fact, with every paragraph that a reader reads, dozens of connections are made that the reader doesn’t recognize.
In short, at a subconscious level the reader experiences the tale.
. . . .
When we’re reading and become completely immersed in a tale, we feel as if we have lived through it. When this happens, researchers call it “experience-taking,” and research shows that with certain stories, this can have a very positive effect.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that when reading a story, a full 65% of the readers engage in “experience-taking.” (Please note that these results are similar to ones where many readers report that they can’t identify with protagonists of the opposite sex. Some ten percent of women say that they can’t do it, while over 30% of men can’t. In other words, some people just find it difficult to become engaged by a story.)
. . . .
Similarities between the protagonist and the reader make it much more likely that the reader will engage in experience-taking. Stories that are written in first person are twice as likely to engage the reader as stories that are written in third person. Tales set in the reader’s hometown, or which have the protagonist similar to the reader, also are more likely to get the reader to engage. If a protagonist is different from the reader in some way—for example if the protagonist is black while the reader is white—the writer can engage still get the desired effect if the difference is not expressed until late in the story.
Link to the rest at David Farland