Reading Harry Potter might make you a better person
Its been almost 20 years since Harry Potter was introduced to the world. And the boy wizard is still fighting the forces of evil. Of course, it's all in the imaginations of millions. But Harrys victory over the evil Voldemort may not be limited to the pages of a book.
This is according to a new study.
A group of Italian psychologists has been looking at Harry Potter. They believe that children who identify with Harry might grow up feeling differently about some groups of people. They could develop greater empathy and tolerance toward people from different backgrounds. Those might include refugees, immigrants and gay people. This is according to NPRs Shankar Vedantam. And it might be thanks to Harrys unhappy childhood.
Peppered throughout the stories are revealing references, Vedantam says. Harry wasn't brought up in the aristocracy of wizard life. At the same time, many wizards in the story came from privileged backgrounds. Some of them turn out to be the villains of the story, according to Vedantam.
Harry eventually escapes his life among normal people. (They are called muggles by his fellow wizards). He quickly discovers that the wonders of the magical world still hide prejudice and bigotry. They are cloaked behind wands and robes. By experiencing the world through Harrys eyes, the psychologists think that perhaps readers may become more attuned to people who often struggle in the real world.
Could it be true?
Here's what the researchers found.
They tested three groups of young people. The people were taken from elementary school-age through university students. The Potterheads were more accepting of stigmatized people. But while the researchers used Harry Potter as a benchmark, Vedantam says it might say more about how a good story changes the way you think.
When stories allow us to empathize with people who lead very different lives or come from very different backgrounds, it allows us to get into their shoes," Vedantam says. And, he says it occurs in a way that no amount of preaching can accomplish.
So it may look like Harry Potter could fight prejudice in the real world. But the study doesnt say whether listening to Draco and the Malfoys has the opposite effect.
Critical thinking challenge: Why did psychologists study Harry Potter instead of other books?