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 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?