What can a book about a boy wizard fighting a bad guy who drinks unicorn blood teach kids about the real world? A whole lot, according to a study conducted by researchers in Italy. As Pacific Standard reports, kids who read Harry Potter hold more accepting views toward marginalized groups.
For the study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in 2015, the team of researchers looked at three groups of readers. The first consisted of 34 Italian fifth graders. Students were asked to answer questions dealing with their attitudes toward immigrants before breaking into groups to discuss passages from the Harry Potter books over a six-week period. Kids from groups that focused on sections dealing with prejudice specifically showed “improved attitudes towards immigrants”—but only if they reported identifying with the main character.
For the second part of the study, the researchers surveyed 117 Italian high schoolers. The respondents who read the most Harry Potter books and related to Harry exhibited a more open attitude toward gay individuals.
Finally, they collected data from 71 undergraduate students in the UK. This time they wanted to know how Harry Potter would influence readers’ perspectives on refugees. Unlike the previous participants, the college students who identified with Harry weren’t any more likely to be accepting of the disenfranchised group (maybe because the older readers are less likely to relate to a younger character no matter their personality). But if they also reported not feeling any connection to Voldemort, then their attitude toward refugees had a greater chance of being positive.
It’s not hard to find metaphors for racial politics in the Harry Potter books as an adult. The words Voldemort and the Death Eaters use to describe “pure blood” wizards and muggle-born “mudbloods” aren’t too far-removed from actual Nazi terminology. But as the research suggests, young readers don’t need to be familiar with the real-world parallels to grasp the message.
[h/t Pacific Standard]