Reading Harry Potter Books Can Make Kids More Tolerant
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The wildly popular Harry Potter books don’t necessarily need another reason for kids to read them, but you can chalk up another potential positive for the series — teaching children to be more tolerant of others.
A recent study published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that kids who read Harry Potter books and identified strongly with the main character were more tolerant of stigmatized minority groups, specifically immigrants, refugees, and gay people.
Bigotry is a continuing theme in the books, the researchers write, noting the evil Voldemort, with his beliefs that only pure-blood wizards and witches should have power, is a “rather obvious” nod to Nazism. Harry, of course, is a “half-blood,” born to one magical parent and one non-magical (“muggle”) parent. The books are also filled with numerous characters — mudbloods, goblins, house elves — that have been marginalized or forced into roles of servitude. Throughout the seven-book series by author J.K. Rowling, Harry befriends these characters and tries to understand and appreciate how they’re different from him.
In one part of the study, researchers asked Italian high school students how many Harry Potter books they read and which character — Harry or his nemesis Voldermort — they more closely identified with. The students then filled out a questionnaire to assess their views about gay people. Those who read a greater number of books in the series were more likely to have positive feelings toward gay individuals.
In a separate part of the study, 34 Italian fifth graders filled out a questionnaire to gauge their views on immigrants. Then for six weeks, half of the children read and discussed excerpts from the books that focused on themes of tolerance or prejudice. The other half read and discussed unrelated topics from the series. The kids were then tested again and the results noted a significant reduction in prejudice and more empathy for immigrants in the group that discussed tolerance issues (but only if they identified strongly with Harry).