Books make an ideal stocking filler this Christmas, and whether you’re young or old, there’s no mistaking the magic of the Harry Potter books. Thanks to JK Rowling’s enchanting prose, millions have ventured on Harry’s journey, all through the power of words (and later the film adaptations). Now, it seems there’s another reason to add the novels to your must-have lists if you’ve not done so already, because a new study has found that kids who were exposed to reading Harry Potter books turned out to be more empathic and open to stigmatised groups.
The study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology – aptly titled The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice — examined elementary, high school, and university students in Italy and the United Kingdom in three separate groups, according to TeenVogue. Taking into account age, previous opinions, and gender, the researchers asked the students how strongly they related to or admired Harry or Voldemort. Then, they asked how the children felt towards what they said where three stigmatised groups — immigrants, homosexuals, and refugees.
“‘You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognise that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!” Albus Dumbledore
Ultimately those who had read the books and identified with Harry were more accepting of and open towards these groups. Those who where emphatic with Voldemort were less open in this sense. The researchers found that extended contact with a marginalised member (yes, even if fictional), vastly improved attitudes towards members of that group.
Harry witnesses and experiences discrimination throughout the novels so it makes sense that readers would empathise the most with him in this regard. In other words, as he learns to understand various stigmatised groups in his world — Muggle-borns or house elves, for example— readers learn how to empathise as he does.
The results aren’t surprising as Rowling has always said her books provide such a social commentary (as most great novels will), even in the guise of magic. “The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry,” she once said.
Hence we have another reason to re-read the books and get excited for the Harry Potter prequel.