Besides dark wizards, Harry has been battling prejudice the whole time. According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, young people who root for the main character, and essentially identify with him, have more positive attitudes toward minority groups.
Researchers asked 34 Italian fifth graders to fill out a questionnaire that evaluated their feelings toward immigrants. They were then asked to read the Harry Potter books. For weeks the students discussed passages from the series. Then they answered the same questionnaire they filled out before reading the books. The result? Those who identified with Harry showed “improved attitudes” toward minority groups.
In a separate study, the researchers asked 117 high school students how many of the volumes they had read, whether they related to Harry or Voldemort, and what their views about gay people were. According to the researchers, the more Harry Potter books a student had read, the more tolerant he or she was toward the LGBT community.
Finally, the study was conducted with British college students. They answered questions about their attitudes toward refugees. Identifying with Harry didn’t translate to less prejudice in the older readers, but the study showed a different mechanism at work.
“Harry Potter book reading was positively associated with perspective taking toward refugees only among those less identified with Voldemort,” the authors wrote. “Perspective taking, in turn, was associated with improved attitudes toward refugees.”
The authors conclude, “Reading the novels can potentially tackle actual prejudice reduction.”
Literature has long been touted for its power to diversify readers’ perspectives, giving people a way to relate to groups they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. Still, more validation of that has its worth. According to nonprofit Common Sense Media, almost half of 17-year-olds report reading for pleasure only once or twice a year—or not at all.