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Study: Reading Harry Potter Reduces Prejudice

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Researchers from England and Italy found that reading the Harry Potter books reduces prejudice.

 

It appears that the real magic of Harry Potter goes beyond the walls of Hogwarts. A team of researchers from England and Italy published a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology last month demonstrating that reading the Harry Potter books reduces prejudice.

“The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: reducing prejudice” is research conducted in the United Kingdom and Italy. It looked at whether there are links between people who read the Harry Potter books and positive attitudes toward stigmatized groups. It involved three studies, one with elementary school children, a second one with Italian high school students and a third study focusing on college students.

Sofia Stathi is a researcher from the University of Greenwich in London and participated in this research. She explained that the idea of focusing on the Harry Potter series came from the fact that those books make very clear links with social hierarchy, prejudice and negative stereotypes.

Bigotry is a recurrent theme within the series and the researchers pointed out the fact that the book’s main villain, Lord Voldemort, has ideas that make “rather obvious” parallels with Nazism. In addition, Harry and his friends have several interactions throughout the books with different species who are being discriminated, such as elves and goblins. Harry’s will to try to understand them and help them is what makes him such an empathic character.

Stathi explained that the study focused on three stigmatized groups in today's society: immigrants, homosexuals and refugees. The results revealed that children who read the books are more empathic toward stigmatized groups.  

“In the first two studies, the one with elementary and high school children, we found that those who have read the books and who identify with the character of Harry Potter are less prejudiced, more favorable toward these groups,” Stathi said.

The third study, involving college students, showed that those who have read the books and disidentify with Voldemort’s character have more positive attitudes toward refugees than others. This time the key factor was not the identification with Harry - as the character is slightly too young for university students to identify with - but rather the distance they have from the negative character Voldemort.

“Our university students sample is of an age that probably can understand more complex issues. They can understand the negativity that is implied in Voldemort’s character,” Stathi added, saying that putting distance between themselves and the Dark Lord is what makes them more tolerant of stigmatized groups.

The study conducted with elementary school children involved discussion, as after reading passages from the Harry Potter series the researcher would talk about it with the children. Stathi underlined that this is a key factor in how stories and books can teach empathy.

“I would like to highlight how important it is that educators and of course parents use the books as a stimulus and then start talking with the children about the real world,” she said.

She added that schools could consider using the Harry Potter books as a way to teach tolerance because they are interesting, stimulate discussions and are easy to implement in a curriculum.

As far as further research is concerned, Stathi said it would be interesting to conduct cross-cultural studies to see if the books are equally positive or not in different societies around the world because this study focused only on Western European countries.

Marine Perot was a KRCU reporter for KRCU in 2014.