The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Embrace your comfort characters

Molly Parker
Molly’s illi for the comfort characters column

I’ve always wondered why people form attachments to characters on the big screen. Well, it turns out, it’s just a part of our brain chemistry.

Many people might tell you that being too invested in fiction is a bad thing for your perception of reality. However, I think being invested in a franchise or book series can help set personal goals and allow you to find yourself. 

I remember scrolling on TikTok sometime last year and seeing a trend where people my age were getting their motivation to become doctors and nurses because of “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

I’ll even admit to finding my incentive to study by watching “Gilmore Girls”—seeing Rory’s work ethic made me motivated to study more. Her love for books also inspired me to get back into reading. Now, I hope to make a career in book publishing.

I was curious to see what other people’s thoughts were on this topic, so I reached out to my friend Emma Hughes, a first-year at The University of Colorado, to ask if she had felt significantly influenced by fiction in her life.

“I think Cristina Yang and Miranda Bailey from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ taught me that my place in this world, as a woman, doesn’t make me any less than the men around me,” she said.

As Emma explained, young women can find it especially hard to express different sides of themselves. In that sense, Miranda Bailey and Cristina Yang show us that femininity is not something to be hidden.

Another perspective comes from first-year Jack Deminski, who spoke about a character from the anime “Attack on Titan.”

“Erin Yeager inspired me to keep moving forward,” he said. “In the beginning, he was very persistent. That was inspiring, especially during [COVID-19] times when all you could do was persevere.” 

We, as watchers and readers, are often empowered by fiction. I think that feeling brings out a new side of us—a stronger one.

However, the reality is that fiction is made up. The places and people have never existed, yet everything about them lingers in our minds. 

The medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that allows us to perceive ourselves, is used predominantly when we think of fictitious people, thus combining our sense of self and others, according to a March 17, 2021 article from BigThink

In two studies, multiple tests produced an explanation of what happens to our brains when the subjects experience something mentally stimulating like strong metaphorical phrases and intense scenes, according to a March 17 article from The New York Times.

Researchers found that separating reality from fiction becomes far more difficult if the person is reading, as opposed to watching a TV show, according to the article. The main reason for this is how the author describes actions, combining the five main senses.

They also found that people who read fiction are more likely to be empathetic towards others and their perspectives.

First-year Janna Galligian talked about “The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, and how his depiction of the characters encouraged her to write her own stories.

“The written relationship was so realistic of a sibling dynamic. Their relationship inspired me to write fiction. Especially writing about deep topics for all ages,” she said.

Literary devices force our brains to visualize things in alternative ways, which strengthens our attention to detail, both while reading and in regular daily activities, according to the New York Times article.

Essentially, plot plays with our humanity. Fiction can pull at our heartstrings, expose our vulnerabilities and make us think with a deeper understanding of ourselves. 

Even if we don’t realize just how similar we are to them, when a character’s story is complete, they still live on with us as our personalities grow.

They’re called comfort characters for a reason. Remember, it’s a good thing to embrace them in all aspects of life. They ignite curiosity as they become a part of who you are and who you strive to be. 

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About the Contributor
Molly Parker, Illustrations Editor
(She/her) Molly Parker is a senior studio art and anthropology double major from Hopedale, Mass. She had been a member of the illustrations team since the spring of 2020 before becoming editor of the section in the spring of 2023. Molly also creates prints and zines that she displays in the Burlington area as well as her hometown. Apart from illustrating and creating art, she loves watching horror movies, cooking and crocheting. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Molly.