How Reading Harry Potter can Reduce Prejudice and Stigma
We all know that reading is beneficial for children, J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter has gone a long way in inspiring children to read more.
But can reading Harry Potter and similar books go further than that and help children to improve their attitudes towards stimatised groups such as immigrants, homosexuals, disabled people and refugees?
And could this attitude shift lead towards reduced prejudice?
Research recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology aimed to examine if so: (Vezzali et al., 2014)
We aimed to test whether they have the potential to effectively achieve social goals such as the amelioration of intergroup relations.
Specifically, the present research was designed to test whether the novels of Harry Potter can be used as a tool for improving attitudes toward stigmatized groups.
The study carried out 3 experiments and focused on 3 particular stigmatised groups:
- immigrants (Study 1)
- homosexuals (Study 2)
- refugees (Study 3).
The team behind the research examined the way the children reading the Harry Potter books would identify with the characters and what effect this would have:
In all three studies, we tested the moderating role of identification with the main positive and negative characters.
The researchers set out what they thought they would find:
In particular, we expect that reading the novels of Harry Potter will have positive effects only among those who identify more with Harry Potter and/or who identify less with Voldemort.
After all 3 experiments had been completed the researchers gathered the data and found some interesting results:
Results from one experimental intervention and two cross-sectional studies show that reading the novels of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups among those more identified with the main positive character (Studies 1 and 2) and those less identified with the main negative character (Study 3).
The researchers proposed that their research offers new insight into the potential uses of fantasy published books in changing and improving attitudes:
Moreover, our results demonstrate that contact with fantasy characters can improve attitudes toward dissimilar out-groups
This research highlights the potential for addressing prejudice in an accessible, indirect manner and goes on to highlight how the research can be used on a practical level:
educators can focus on specific passages strongly related to issues of prejudice