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. Those 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 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.

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 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. They 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 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 (30)
  • coled-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:22 p.m.

    CTC: They studied Harry Potter instead of other books because more young children have read Harry Potter than any other book. And, they wanted to test it on the minds of young children as well.

  • ethanw-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:23 p.m.

    They studied harry potter instead of any other books is because they thought if you identify with harry potter you might develop empathy and tolerance toward people from different backgrounds.

  • kyleighp-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    Psychologists studied Harry Potter instead of other books because it is a rather long series, alot of people have read them, and the characters are more relating then characters in other books.

  • mattv-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    Harry Potter is a VERY famous book series, so the Psychologists studied it because if you're a reader, you've read the entire Harry Potter series. Since this is true, they studied the books seeing if it was a good book for the mind, taking in the accounts of plot-line, and the characters actions. A book characters actions can reflect on a persons actions in real life.

    A role model, of sorts.

  • kolbyd-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    They study harry potter because it a well known book.

  • garretta-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:28 p.m.

    CTC: Psychologists use Harry Potter as a study because the Harry Potter books describe how underprivileged and the privileged make their own path through life. Which helps when younger children read these books because they will be able to understand all people of different backgrounds.

  • lances-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:30 p.m.

    psychologist study'd harry potter instead of another story is because harry potter has many back grounds of life and harry figures out that just because people have bad back grounds dosen't mean the bad people and shows to understand and mot to judge.

  • calaabj-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:31 p.m.

    The psychologist studied harry potter instead of other books because children who identify to potter might develop greater empathy and might look diffrently at other people from diffrent countries

  • mimir-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:31 p.m.

    They researched Harry Potter because its a very famous, often-read book. If they had used another book they may not have had as great a number to research with. Also, the book has all the factors needed for the research.

  • travisb-fel
    8/21/2015 - 02:31 p.m.

    Psychologists studied Harry Potter because it is a story about a kid who has to become a wizard. It teaches kids that people come from different places, and shouldn't be treated differently.

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