When Reading Romance Novels Your Brain May Think Fiction Is Reality

want to live in books

By A. Charlotte Rose

Have you ever had the experience of becoming so lost in a great romance story that you could swear you are actually in the experience with the hero and heroine? You literally feel that first stir of attraction, that first kiss, and that magnetic pull that joins two characters together as they fall more deeply in love. You can even feel like you are right there in the scenes of passionate love-making and you can feel their tension, misunderstandings, and conflicts as well—strongly!

Recent studies have explored the impact of fictional characters in the lives of fans, as well as how the brain perceives these characters and their experiences. The outcome:
When you read a book, as far as the brain is concerned, it is really happening. You are there in the story.

This explains why we get so carried away by a good romance book and experience so many emotions.

In one study, published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Ohio State University examined what happened to people who, while reading a fictional story, found themselves feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own – a phenomenon the researchers call “experience-taking.”

The Research News, at Ohio State, reported, “Experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes,” said Geoff Kaufman, who led the study as a graduate student at Ohio State.

Kaufman said while this phenomenon does not occur with every reader, and it can be temporary, it is enabled to occur when, “people are able, in a sense, to forget about themselves and their own self-concept and self-identity while reading.”

This seems to fit with the experience of many romance book readers who report that the books are a total distraction; and that while engrossed in reading they don’t feel compelled to even want to have to deal with life – work, kids, etc.

In March 2012, The New York Times reported on two studies that found a marriage between neuroscience and fiction. The article, “Your Brain on Fiction,” summarized a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, that involved researchers in Spain, and also reported on a team of team of researchers from Emory University in the United States who shared their findings in the February 2012 Brain & Language. The article concluded:

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. “ It quoted Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), who suggested that a vivid simulation of reality “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.”

The New York Times surmised: “Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.”

These three studies offer remarkable insight into the level of involvement with the books and characters that many fans seem to report—including why so many readers talk about their favorite fictional characters as if they are real people.

Well, aren’t they?

When you read, do you feel like you are in the story?

This was originally published in my Hot Romance column at The Three Tomatoes web site.

Don’t You Just Love Sexy, Beautiful, Shirtless Men?

favorite day dream

If you share an appreciation for hot men without their shirts on, please visit the A. Charlotte Rose Pinterest page.

We are so grateful for these handsome men, willing to take their shirts off, for our viewing pleasure.

They give us inspiration for characters in romance novels, and fuel our fantasies.

Leave yourself enough time to meditate (oogle) and enjoy.

Just click here:

My Fantasy: Patrick Wilson As Christian Grey

By. A Charlotte Rose


I think Patrick Wilson could pull off the role of Christian Grey.

I realize he may look like the guy-next-door or a college jock, and that he’s older than Christian Grey’s 27 years, but he is a great actor and looks much younger than he is. Plus, he is so sexy and he can play “commanding.” He also can pull off the kind of elegance and refinement that readers see in the character of Christian Grey.

Wilson has significant acting and singing credentials. He’s done a lot on Broadway and and of course portrayed Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera movie. He has appeared in feature films such Little Children, The Switch, Watchmen, The A-Team, The Ledge, Insidious and The Conjuring. He also carried his own television show, A Gifted Man, which was on CBS, 2011 to 2012.

In many of his roles he is a good guy with a heart, but he has also played it darker and scarier. I could see him in a pair of ripped jeans in the Red Room. We’d have to do something with his hair though, and make sure it looks a lot better than it did in Phantom of the Opera.

I just caught up on all the existing episodes of A Gifted Man, in which he plays an arrogant, controlling, dominant doctor—whose dead ex-wife, Anna (Jennifer Ehle) continues to chat with him and guide him from the other side. I watched one episode, to see Ehle in action, because she was named to the Fifty Shades cast. Before I knew it I was working my way through all 16 episodes (on Amazon), compelled to keep watching Patrick Wilson as the gorgeous, perfect, rich, brilliant, talented, arrogant, sexy neurosurgeon Michael Holt, MD.

Then, I watched him in a controversial episode of Girls in which he also plays a doctor and has a passionate couple of days with creator/star Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah. Many people made a big deal about a gorgeous guy like him wanting to make love to an average gal like Hannah but he gave it all he had and made it so sexy and hot.

Intrigued, I had to had to watch him in the dark but well-acted Little Children, in which he has a passionate affair with Kate Winslet. Wowsa! I had no idea he could… or would… act in such a graphic sex scene. And I was so glad he did!

No one has ever mentioned Patrick Wilson in association with Fifty Shades, and who knows if he would even consider it, but he has the acting chops, the sex appeal, and the classic good looks I think we are all looking for in our movie version of Christian Grey. Here are my observations on why I think he can do it.

1.He’s gorgeous. He has one of those classically handsome, sculpted faces. His face is expressive, and quite capable of the kind of irritation Christian Grey shows so easily when things do not go his way. He can just look tasty, and also show great emotional range – from rage to romantic passion. Even if he is not everyone’s vision of Mr. Grey, he is very easy on the eyes!

2.His body rocks and he can move it, baby. Seriously. He is hot and his physique is amazing, absolutely as good we imagine Christian Grey’s to be. In Little Children his first sex scene with Kate Winslet against a washing machine is sexy, raw, and, it looks real! Oh. My. God. It is worth seeing that movie just to see his ass, and the way he moves it, while engaged in such a passionate moment. They must have had a pillow positioned between them, or, it was happening for real. I have to admit, I replayed it a couple of times … okay, five times. I had never seen any sex on screen that looked like it could have been a romantic scene right out of Fifty Shades of Grey.

3.He looks great in suits, tux, and scrubs. Christian is elegant and refined, and Patrick also knows how to wear a suit and a tux. He looked particularly awesome slacks with a pink or blue shirt with a tie. He’s well-put together, clean, pressed, and looks like a man who smells good. He is also delicious in blue surgical scrubs. Even after saving lives, where he must be working up a sweat, he still looks like a guy who smells good.

4.He looks younger than he is and he is super athletic. He played a surgeon, 38, and a doctor, 42, but he can play younger (Christian Grey is 28). He has that kind of face, along with an athlete’s body.

5.He can play arrogant and bossy. As neurosurgeon Michael Holt in A Gifted Man we first get to know him as an arrogant, emotionally removed, self-absorbed neurosurgeon. He’s best in his field, good at everything he does, a superior athlete, and a man that ever woman desires. At first, you want to smack him for being so smug. We also get to see him slip off of the high horse when his dead wife, a caring family doctor who ran a free clinic before her untimely death, starts communicating for the other side. His defenses break down, just as Christian’s did, and the arrogance moves aside so a softer side can show through.

6.He can play caring. Just as Mr. Grey is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Michael Holt can be cold and methodical and in the next breath, a caring doctor who you wish was your personal physician. “Are you alright,” is something he utters constantly, as everyone around him seems to suddenly be sick and symptomatic. He is constantly saving people, and that is so sexy! As Dr. Holt he also gets roped into helping save his ex-wive’s free clinic, and working there in addition to running his own medical center, Holt Neuro. In every episode he ends up treating sick patients with no insurance at that his fancy medical center.

7.He can play rich, powerful, and in-control. As an award-winning neurosurgeon that is top in his field, he is in control of his own domain. Like Christian, he is completely dominant and in charge. He is precise, highly skilled, and runs his operating room the way Christian Grey runs his business, flies a helicopter and controls as glider plain. The same precision, we imagine, is required for the Red Room!

8.He can play a hot yet sensitive guy. As a hot doctor named Joshua in an episode of Girls, he had sex with Lena Dunham’s character Hannah on a ping pong table and in other areas of his character’s newly renovated Brooklyn brownstone. She made the first move to kiss him, but he did not waste a moment kissing her back. He was passionate, warm, and was comfortable with intimacy.

9.He has that sexy, smirky, warm appeal. It’s not difficult to imagine being attracted to him. When he comes onto the screen in a sexy role, he owns it. One of the best parts of A Gifted Man was the sexual tension between Dr. Kate Sykora [Rachelle Lefevre] the doctor who takes over as director at Anna’s clinic. You want him to kiss her, or kiss someone, because you want to watch him do it.

10.He knows how to properly heat up an elevator. A highlight of Fifty Shades of Grey is the hot, molten elevator kiss that kicked off the relationship between Christian Grey and Ana Steele. As Dr. Holt he is in an elevator with Dr. Sykora and responds to the sexual tension that’s been building between the two with a kiss. The series ended soon after, so we never go to see where it would go. But, clearly, we want to see more of his moves.

So, these are some of the reasons Patrick Wilson could portray Christian Grey– or any dominant, hot, handsome romantic hero in fine suit, or surgical scrubs, or naked in a laundry room. In a recent interview, he said shooting love scenes is always difficult because there is a crowd. But love scenes with Patrick Wilson in them are hot, sexy, and fun to watch. Hope to see him in more!