Can reading a fantasy story about a British kid with glasses who befriends half-giants, house elves, goblins and mudbloods (aka wizards whose parents have no powers themselves) lead to greater kindness toward minority groups facing discrimination?
Turns out, it can.
New research suggests that reading J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books correlates with less prejudice among young people toward minority groups, including immigrants and homosexuals, and a greater ability to understand their perspectives.
The research comprised three separate studies. In the first, a team led by Loris Vezzali of the University of Modena gathered 34 Italian fifth graders and assessed them on their attitudes toward immigrants through a questionnaire. For six weeks, they met in groups of five or six with a researcher to discuss passages from “Harry Potter.”
Some groups read passages pertaining to prejudice, while others read sections about a different topic. After that, researchers interviewed the kids about the extent of their Pottermania (to determine how many of the books they’d read and movies they’d seen) and asked whether or not they identified with Harry and wanted to be like him. Kids who identified with Harry and read passages pertaining to prejudice showed “improved attitudes toward immigrants,” the researchers write.
Another study found that high school students who identified with Harry (as opposed to the villian Voldemort) were less likely to show prejudice against gay people. And a third study focusing on college students in England discovered that those who did not relate to Voldemort were more likely to have accepting attitudes toward immigrants.
So in the melting pot that is America, it’s easy to use these findings to make our country a little bit better. After all, these studies demonstrate that we don’t need magic to reduce prejudice and racism and increase empathy. Instead, all that’s required is a library card (and a magical wizard to read about).