Reading Harry Potter might make you a better person (AP photo / Getty Images)
Reading Harry Potter might make you a better person
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Its been almost 20 years since Harry Potter was introduced to the world and the boy wizard is still fighting the forces of evil in the imaginations of millions. But according to a new study, Harrys victory over the evil Voldemort may not be limited to the pages of a book.

A group of Italian psychologists believe that children who identify with Harry Potter might develop greater empathy and tolerance toward people from different backgrounds, including refugees, immigrants and gay people, reports NPRs Shankar Vedantam. And it might be thanks to Harrys unhappy childhood.

Peppered throughout the stories are references to the fact that Harry wasn't brought up in the aristocracy of wizard life, Vedantam says. At the same time, there are many characters in the story, many wizards who came from much more privileged backgrounds, who turn out to be the villains of the story.

While Harry eventually escapes his life among normal people (called muggles by his fellow wizards), he quickly discovers that the wonders of the magical world still hide prejudice and bigotry 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.

The researchers tested three groups of young people from elementary school-age through university students and found that 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.

I think it points to one of the more interesting ideas in fighting determination...which is that the most effective way to do it is not through rational thinking and conscious effort but through narrative and storytelling. 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 in a way that no amount of preaching can accomplish.

While it looks like Harry Potter could fight prejudice in the real world, 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?

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COMMENTS (42)
  • DBenjamin-Cas
    5/15/2015 - 10:08 a.m.

    I don't think that the Harry Potter series help me be more understanding of people. But, I think it is cool that watching a movie can change some kids way of thinking about different types of people. It helps teach kids to not bully or be bullied because they are poor or aren't good looking.

  • bradleys-war
    5/15/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    I 'm not in to the whole harry potter series because I read LIKE WALKING DEAD COMICS /BATMAN COMICS but harry potter is a weird book and story but the movies are ok sometimes

  • lisablue11
    5/15/2015 - 02:47 p.m.

    Wow... reading Harry Potter can make you a better person? From reading this article I can actually understand that. I should get into this series.

  • CapeleyZ-1
    5/15/2015 - 05:49 p.m.

    This article was about how reading harry potter might make you a better person. Italian psychologists believe that children who read Harry Potter have more empathy and tolerance towards different types of people. This all may be thanks to Harry's bad childhood. Harry discovers that behind the fascination of the magical world is prejudice and intolerance for people such as Hermoine Granger whom come from a muggle family and are halfbloods. I know Harry Potter has very greatly affected my life but its cool that actual scientists think it to.

  • HNia-Cas
    5/16/2015 - 05:25 p.m.

    I don't think that reading Harry Potter books can make you a better person and understand people better. I think it's pretty cool that watching the movie and actually understanding the book can change the way some people think.

  • amandam-Koc
    5/16/2015 - 08:07 p.m.

    They study Harry Potter because they found out that the teens that read this books can be more accessible to other people because they put theyrselfs in Harry's place, and learn with his experience.

  • KCheyenne-Cas
    5/16/2015 - 10:00 p.m.

    I never actually looked at Harry Potter that way before. I see now that the books give you a sense of how seeing different backgrounds in the eyes of someone who is poor or less fortunate really is. The books allow us to kind of step into their shoes.

  • jacobc-Koc
    5/17/2015 - 11:41 a.m.

    this article was very interesting in a sense that we can learn to be more empathetic while we are young. Some people i know needed to read harry potter not because its a good book series, its because they need to learn to connect with people better

  • alexisb-Koc
    5/17/2015 - 12:21 p.m.

    I think this is great. I still have an abundance of empathy and understanding for people even though I wasn't allowed to read or watch Harry Potter as a kid. But if I was allowed, I think I would have grown up absolutely adoring both the books and movies. I have a friend who is obsessed with Harry Potter and she is the most caring and empathetic person. I hope Harry Potter continues to have an effect on everyone who reads the books, watches the movies, and indulges themselves in this world.

  • SydneyL-Kut
    5/17/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

    Researchers used the Harry Potter books probably because people who read them usually get really into the story. If they got people who had read Harry Potter and who didn't, then it would be easy to see the differences in their personalities. Also, because of some of the events in the stories, researchers probably thought that what the readers read would show more in how they treated people.

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