J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' Books Show Scientifically to Fight Prejudice in the Real World

Turns out that he doesn't just fight against Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter fights against prejudice, too. Researchers found that reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books can raise people's levels of empathy toward disenfranchised groups.

The study "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice" can be found in the February issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (I subscribe, don't you?), and it was discussed Friday on NPR's "Morning Edition." Researchers looked at groups of elementary, high school, and college students before and after they read the Harry Potter books, and they found that those that read the books showed in increasingly positive attitude toward what they deemed "out-groups" — in particular, stigmatized or marginalized groups, including refugees, immigrants, and people who identify as LGBTQ. Specifically, researchers credited the attitude change to identification with Harry, the main character and disidentification from Voldemort, the negative character. (I assume Hermione helped, too, because she's amazing.)

Notably, Harry did not rise to prominence because he was born into the elite wizardry, in fact, his boyhood is full of struggles after the death of his parents — which some on NPR speculated could have contributed to empathizing with disenfranchised groups.

NPR's science correspondent Shankar Vendantam pointed out just how important this research is toward understanding empathy and how we can fight discrimination in the real world:

I think it points to one of the more interesting ideas in fighting discrimination, the most effective way to do it it is not through rational thinking and conscious effort, but through narrative and storytelling. When stories allow us to empathize with people who lead very different lives or come from very different backgrounds, it allows us to get into their shoes in a way no amount of preaching can accomplish.

Add this to the list of why literacy, particularly for young children as they come of age in a world full of all kinds of people, is so, so important.