This seals it. Harry Potter should be required school reading. Why? Well, it’s amazing, for one. But, more importantly, a new study out of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology finds that it actually helps kids to practice acceptance and tolerance, as reported by the Pacific Standard.
According to the study, reading the series, and specifically relating to the titular character, tends to diminish bias toward those minority groups that find themselves at the center of hate, like immigrants and gays. In the two separate studies conducted, young Italians seemed to take “the positive attitudes and behaviors of Harry Potter toward stigmatized fantastic groups” to heart. In fact, it resonated so deeply with them that they practiced that same consideration in their real lives. I’ve always been astounded by how perceptive children are, and this study just solidifies it.
Apparently, the kids in this study were able to make the connection between Harry’s distaste for the derogatory term “mudblood” and apply it to the unspeakable cruelty and unfairness directed by some to immigrants and homosexuals. Research lead Loris Vazzali of the University of Modena stated that, “reading the novels can potentially tackle actual prejudice reduction.” Anyone who has read the series knows that bigotry is an underlying, and sometimes blatant, theme throughout the entirety. “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” or Voldemort, is meant to embody evil in its most pure and dangerous form. Some may also compare him to Adolf Hitler with his insistence that the power remain with those of untainted blood and that the mudbloods be essentially exterminated.
Harry, who also happens to come from two magical parents and is therefore technically on the “right side” of the fight according to Voldemort’s standards, embraces the differences between not only muggles (or non-magical people), but also the “lesser castes” like house elves, goblins and giants. He treats them with respect and tries to understand their struggles. The elves and goblins could easily represent slavery as it is mentioned several times throughout the series how those species have been forced into subservient roles. It may seem obvious to those of us who grew up with this series into adulthood, but what about the children reading it now?
The first study conducted included 34 Italian school children, grade 5. Their first task was to fill out a questionnaire about their feelings on immigrants. For the next six weeks they met weekly with a team of researchers for what was essentially a book club. They would discuss selected scenes from the books, with half of the participants discussing the chosen passages while the other half chose to focus more on unrelated scenes. After each session, they were again questioned on their feelings toward immigration, listed how many Potter books they had read or films they had seen and discussed how much they wanted to be like Harry. What were the results, you ask? The kids who read and discussed the assigned passages focusing on bigotry exhibited “improved attitudes toward immigrants.” Before you celebrate, however, it behooves us to point out that only the kids that closely identified with Harry Potter himself had these positive feelings. Those who related to say, Draco Malfoy, probably didn’t want to jump on the love bandwagon.
The next study focused on 117 high school-aged Italian children. The results were largely the same. They were also asked how many books they had read and movies they had seen; whether they felt more of a connection with Harry or Voldermort; and what their feelings were toward homosexuals (though they were informed that was for a separate study as to not compromise the data of this one). And, again, those children who felt a personal kinship with Harry had a much more accepting and positive outlook on homosexuality in general. The final leg of the study was conducted in England and focused on college students. This study focused on the perception of refugees rather than homosexuals and immigrants and were a tad different as Harry was “not linked with the lower levels of prejudice.” But with a bit more digging, the researchers ultimately found similar results: The key factor appears to be in which character the reader identifies with. The study reports:
Harry Potter book reading was positively associate with perspective taken toward refugees only among those less identified Voldemort. Perspective taking, in turn, was associated with improved attitudes toward refugees.
This also ties in to some earlier published research which states that literary fiction can reduce racism by allowing readers to connect with diverse characters on a personal level. According to the Pacific Standard:
For that reason, these researchers took overall book reading into account when analyzing their results; they found the Harry Potter books had an impact beyond that of reading in general.
So let’s do a quick recap:
- Reading is good for you.
- Reading Harry Potter is ESPECIALLY good for you and literally can make you a better human being.
- J.K. Rowling is the one true sorceress, which is just one of many reason she’s this month’s Patron Saint of Feminism!
Let me expound on that last point. Rowling once said that, “The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry.” See what we mean? Sorceress. Bravo to Madam Rowling and to the people who conducted this study.
Can we just go ahead and make the series required reading now?