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HARRY POTTER Makes Kids More Understanding of Others, Study Says

Reading J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter novels as a youngster might have made you jealous about never getting your letter to Hogwarts, but there’s a good chance they also made you more tolerant of disenfranchised groups, because according to the results of one study reading about the Boy Who Lived Made kids more understanding and empathetic of marginalized members of society.

A study originally published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology–that we recently came across at Mental Floss–tested three age groups of young people to see “whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups.”

We considered participants across an extended life span, ranging from childhood to young adulthood. The first study is an experimental intervention realized among Italian elementary school children. The second and third studies are cross-sectional, conducted with high school students in Italy and university undergraduates in the United Kingdom, respectively. In order to provide a stringent test for our hypotheses, we focused on three deeply stigmatized out-groups: immigrants (Study 1), homosexuals (Study 2), refugees (Study 3).

The elementary students filled out a questionnaire about their thoughts on immigrants before reading passages from the books, which included group discussions focusing on sections dealing with prejudice.

“Results revealed that a structured intervention based on reading passages related to prejudice and conducted among Italian elementary school children improved attitudes toward immigrants (compared with a control condition where children read passages unrelated to prejudice) for children who identified more with the main positive character.”

The second study with the high school students focused on their feelings towards homosexuals, and it saw similar results “associated with improved attitudes toward a stigmatized group.” That was also true with the undergraduates who were measured for their feelings about refugees, although there was one notable difference compared with the first two results. In the other studies identifying with Harry himself led to more understanding from the participants, whereas the university students didn’t seem to have that personal connection to the character, possibly because they were older than Harry was in the books. The growth in their improved feelings came from “those less identified with Voldemort.”

These days being a better person because you don’t identify with evil is still something worth celebrating. As are the novels, which we just so happen to be doing this month at Alpha B0ok Club, where we are reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Tune in this Wednesday at Project Alpha at 6:00 P.M. PST, we’re covering the first four chapters.

Not only is it going to be a blast, it sounds like it will make you a more understanding person.

Do you think reading Harry Potter as a kid made you a better person today? Tell us why in the comments below.

Images: Warner Bros. Pictures

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