Science Finds Harry Potter Has The Power To Reduce Prejudice

Photo: James D. Morgan/REX Shutterstock
If you ever needed an excuse for your love of Harry Potter, science has your back. A study published by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that kids who were exposed to reading Harry Potter books turned out to be more empathic and open to stigmatized and oppressed groups. The study — which is gloriously titled "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice" — examined elementary, high school, and university students in Italy and the United Kingdom. Controlling for age, previous opinions on groups, and gender, the researchers asked the students how many Harry Potter books or movies they had read or watched, and how strongly they related to or admired either Harry or Voldemort. Then, they asked how the children felt towards one of three stigmatized groups — immigrants, homosexuals, and refugees. The results? Those who had read the books and identified with Harry were more accepting of and open to the stigmatized groups. (The junior Death Eaters who sympathized with Voldemort over Harry saw less effects.) The researchers found that extended contact with a marginalized member of an out-group, even if that member is fictional, improved attitudes towards members of that group. Harry, who both witnesses and experiences discrimination, fits the bill. Moreover, as he learns to understand and empathize with various stigmatized groups in his world — Muggle-borns, house elves, or goblins— readers learn how to empathize along with him. As the study explains, “Contact via fictional characters improved out-group attitudes by eliciting a cognitive process similar to that activated in real contact (i.e., perspective taking).” The researchers advise that reading fantasy books with themes and characteristics similar to those in the Harry Potter series may improve relations with certain stigmatized groups. So go show that to anyone who wants to roll their eyes over the fact that you’re reading a "kids book." As Dumbledore said, “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

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