Evidence of "character identification" found in the brains of Game of Thrones fans

If you're someone who gets easily immersed in fictional worlds, you're probably more likely to take on the traits of fictional characters. 

Researchers at Ohio State surveyed "Game of Thrones" fans about which characters they felt most closest to and then scanned their brains while they thought of each of the following characters: Bronn, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Davos Seaworth, Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, Petyr Baelish, Sandor Clegane and Ygritte.

From Ohio State News

For the study, the participants' brains were scanned in an fMRI machine while they evaluated themselves, friends and "Game of Thrones" characters. An fMRI indirectly measures activity in various parts of the brain through small changes in blood flow.

The researchers were particularly interested in what was happening in a part of the brain called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), which shows increased activity when people think about themselves and, to a lesser extent, when thinking about close friends.

According to Timothy Broom, lead author of the study, they found those who scored highest in what is called "trait identification" use the same part of the brain to think about their favorite characters as they do to think about themselves. 

Participants who agreed strongly with statements like "I really get involved in the feelings of the characters in a novel," were the ones tagged high in trait identification. 

"People who are high in trait identification not only get absorbed into a story, they also are really absorbed into a particular character," Broom said.  "They report matching the thoughts of the character, they are thinking what the character is thinking, they are feeling what the character is feeling. They are inhabiting the role of that character."

The findings help explain how fiction can have such a big impact on some people, said Dylan Wanger, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. "For some people, fiction is a chance to take on new identities, to see worlds through others' eyes and return from those experiences changed."

"What previous studies have found is that when people experience stories as if they were one of the characters, a connection is made with that character, and the character becomes intwined with the self. In our study, we see evidence of that in their brains."

Read more: "What happens in your brain when you 'lose yourself' in fiction"