Researchers from universities in Italy published a paper in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology that explored how story reading can be a powerful strategy in improving human attitudes.
Many of the fictional groups in “Harry Potter,” including muggles, were marginalized much like immigrants, homosexuals and refugees are in the real world. That’s why scientists wanted to use the novels to examine the “perception of stigmatized groups” among elementary, high school and university students.
First, they administered a six-week course on “Harry Potter” to 34 fifth-graders. By the end of the course, the students were asked to fill out a questionnaire on immigration. They found that those who read the book discussed topics such as bigotry and prejudice, while those who didn’t read it did not.
Next, they studied 117 high school students and discovered that those who dived into “Harry Potter” had more positive perceptions of the LGBT communities than those who did not.
Lastly, they assessed college students. They noticed that those who read it had less of an emotional connection with Voldemort, the villain of the series, and had "improved attitudes toward refugees," the study read.
“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 and those less identified with the main negative character,” the authors wrote.
“Participants reading about Harry Potter's interactions with characters belonging to stigmatized groups may have learned to take the perspective of discriminated group members,” they said, adding, “and in turn, applied this enhanced ability to understand disadvantaged groups to real-world out-group categories.”