Atticus Finch claimed you can never understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
But reading To Kill a Mockingbird could make your brain believe that it is actually experiencing events happening to the literary characters between the pages, neuroscientists believe.
Researchers found biological changes in the brains of those asked to read books, in an experiment designed to prove that novels can have a significant impact on the mind.
They found that a powerful story has the ability to create ‘muscle memory’ in the brain in the same way as if the events had actually happened to the reader.
Neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person.
“We wanted to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it.
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist.
“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
Some stories are so powerful they may even permanently alter the way the reader’s brain works, the study concluded. The neurological effects could be seen for days after the volunteers had stopped reading the books.