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MIT engineers create a vest to help you feel characters' experiences as you read

The vest created by MIT engineers has the ability to raise or lower temperature or heighten a heartbeat to enable a reader to mimic a character's experience.

By Staff Writer / February 7, 2014

MIT students attend a class.

Melanie Stetson Freeman

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We’ve all felt our heartbeat accelerate as Katniss of “The Hunger Games” evades pursuers or felt ourselves longing for a cold glass of water when F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway describes a hot Long Island summer.

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But now engineers at the Massasschusetts Institute of Technology have made it possible for you to physically experience what the character you’re reading about is going through, from an increase in temperature to a heightened heartbeat to lighting, sound, and more.

MIT engineers Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, and Julie Legault created a black vest for a class that is worn by the reader and hooked up to an e-book. Their test book was “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” a story by James Tiptree in which the character experiences hot weather in Barcelona and captivity in a basement as well as a wide range of emotions.

“You feel this story in your gut – it is an amazing example of the power of fiction to make us feel and empathize with the protagonist," Hope told NPR. "Because our imaginations and emotions were so strongly moved by this story, we wondered how we could heighten that experience.”

The vest is only a prototype, and there are no plans to create more or market them, said Hope.

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