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Accio Tolerance: How the Harry Potter Books Make Us More Accepting

It’s not magic, just good ol’ fashioned empathy, according to a recent study on the popular series.

image via (cc) scottrsmith

Despite all the spells and incantations used throughout the fictional Harry Potter books, perhaps nothing is quite as magical as what happens to readers of J.K. Rowling’s massively popular series right here in the real world. That’s because research indicates Potter-fans are more tolerant, more accepting, and generally better to one another after reading about the boy wizard’s adventures.

According to The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice, a recently-published study put out in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, those who read the Harry Potter books have more of a positive attitude than that of their “muggle” (that is: “non-magical”) peers when it comes to frequently-ostracized demographic groups. From elementary school-aged readers all the way through college, the study’s authors found that those who immersed themselves in Rowling’s magical universe were able to more effectively empathize with people from differing backgrounds.

According to the the study’s authors:

We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negative character (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement.

In Rowling’s books, Potter and his magical companions overcome adversity by drawing upon diversity, celebrating the unique talents and magical contributions from wizards, elves, centaurs, and ordinary people. By identifying with the titular Harry, readers experience his magical world as one in which difference is to be celebrated, while the conformity espoused by the villainous Lord Voldemort is clearly meant to be abhorred. The more a reader delves into Harry’s stories, the more those stories’ lessons take root in the reader’s real life.

As National Public Radio’s Shankar Vedantam notes, the study points to the broader effectiveness of using narrative and storytelling as educational tools, capable of shifting attitudes away from inflexible determinism and toward a broader sense of acceptance.

For muggle and wizard alike, that’s cause to celebrate.


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