Harry Potter Helps Reduce Prejudice

By AJ Trager

NATIONAL - Aside from defeating Lord Voldemort and restoring peace to the world, Harry Potter is also helping to reduce prejudice and bigotry against the LGBT and immigrant communities.

In a recent study published by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers find that young people who read the famous J.K. Rowling series and identify with the lead character are more likely to have reduced bias toward stigmatized minority groups.

34 fifth-graders completed questionnaires about their attitudes towards immigrants after six consecutive weeks of researchers meeting with the students in small groups. They read passages from the Harry Potter novels to aide in facilitation of discussions. Students who discussed prejudice-related passages showed improved attitudes towards immigrants but only if they identified emotionally with Harry.

A second study polled 117 Italian high school students and found that students who read more of the series tended to be more gay friendly. But again, only if they felt a personal connection to the title character.

The third study used a college-age group of people in England and assessed the attitudes towards refugees. The results were different than the previous two studies where identification with Harry was not linked to lower levels of prejudice.

The books' ability to prompt readers to view society from the viewpoint of a disparaged minority might just be the mechanism behind prejudice reduction, researchers said.

"Harry Potter book reading was positively associated with perspective taking toward refugees only among those less identified with Voldemort," they report. "Perspective taking, in turn, was associated with improved attitudes toward refugees."

Bigotry, the researchers note, is a continuing theme throughout the book series. Voldemort represents pure evil, and arguments have been made that his beliefs have rather obvious parallels with Nazism. Voldemort believes all power should reside in "pure blood" witches and wizards and is entirely opposed to "muggle" (non-magical) born wizards and witches practicing magic. In fact, he wants to eradicate them. Potter and his friends also interact with elves and goblins, both known for being subordinate to humans.

"Harry Potter empathizes with characters from stigmatized categories, tries to understand their sufferings and to act towards social equality," the study's leader, psychologist Dr. Loris Vezzali, told The Huffington Post in an email. "So, I and my colleagues think that empathic feelings are the key factor driving prejudice reduction."

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