High school has just started and my youngest daughter, 14, is a newly minted freshman. She came home the other day and said “I wish I could just apperate!”
Who can’t relate?
Thanks to the Harry Potter series, our family enjoys the vocabulary of Harry and his pals at Hogwarts. What kid doesn’t want to disappear or hide behind an invisibility cloak sometimes?
Of course, J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series has been known to get unmotivated kids to read. The ensemble of characters has even prepared pre-teens for the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Now the good work has filtered into the social sciences.
Italian researchers conducted two studies involving the Harry Potter books. In one study, the researchers asked high school students how many Harry Potter books they had read and which character — Harry or his foe Voldemort — they more closely identified with. This was followed up with a series of questions about the highschoolers’ views on gays. The research found that students who read more Harry Potter books were more likely to feel more positively towards gay people. Not only that, but the effect was larger for the students who felt more aligned with dear Harry.
In another study with 34 fifth-graders, the researchers asked the children to fill out a questionnaire asking for their views about immigrants. For the next six weeks, half of the children read and discussed excerpts from the Harry Potter series, in particular those with a theme of tolerance or prejudice. In contrast, the other group read and discussed unrelated topics in the series. The results showed that for the group of 11-year-olds that discussed the tolerance themes, the children reported significantly less prejudice and more empathy for immigrants—but only if the student identified strongly with Harry!
I love it when popular culture enters in to the halls of social sciences, but even more so when such books with characters like Harry and Hermione, Ron, Luna, Draco, Dobby, and even the Dementors enter the hallways of our house.
The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997. I read it as a study distraction while preparing for my professional licensing exam. It was also was the year I gave birth to my first child, Sophia. Who knew that eight years later she would covet the Harry Potter series and become an obsessed fan? She’s read each volume at least four times over the years, and championed the 6th book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in French! Recently, I found a tattered volume on the ledge of the bathtub. At 17, the series still holds comfort for her after a tough soccer game, with aching bones, and during a good soak. Suffice it to say that she could probably write a thesis on the J.K. Rowling series.
Harry Potter and his friends also prepared my daughters for the plight of middle school like no other media could have.
When stories can achieve an awareness of the struggles in humanity, that’s a positive thing regardless of the literary critiques about the prose. The Harry books offer all the big emotions: fear, anger, rejection, love, hate, shame; and experiences of competition, secrecy, triumph, and mastery. It also entertains the nuances of growing up: unrequited love, fitting in, jest, kindness, self-doubt, and solidarity.
It’s a compliment that the Harry Potter series has made its way into a scientific journal on children’s perceptions of empathy, tolerance and acceptance.
Grazie to those Italian researchers.
By Tara Cousineau, CEO and Founder of BodiMojo.
Vezzali, Stathi, Giovannini, et al. (online July 23) The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice, Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
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