Does Reading Harry Potter Have An Effect On Your Behavior?

Does Reading Harry Potter Have An Effect On Your Behavior?

3:00pm May 01, 2015

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A famous fictional conflict in children's literature has a happier ending. Tomorrow is the day "Harry Potter" fans know as the date of the Battle of Hogwarts. And there is evidence the boy wizard's power might extend beyond the book.


NPR's Shankar Vedantam has been looking at some new research. Shankar, what does it say?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Well, this new research comes from a study titled "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter," Steve. Researcher Loris Vezzali in Italy and his colleagues analyzed the attitudes of elementary school students, high schoolers and college students in Italy and Britain, and they measured the attitudes of children and young people before and after they read "Harry Potter" books or watched "Harry Potter" movies. Now, as a word of background, Steve, "Harry Potter" of course is this boy wizard who helps the forces of good triumph over the forces of evil. But peppered throughout the stories are references to the fact that Harry wasn't brought up in the aristocracy of wizard life. At the same time, there are many characters in the story, many wizards who came from much more privileged backgrounds, who turn out to be the villains of the story. The researchers find that exposure to "Harry Potter" stories changes the attitudes of children and young people toward people from disadvantaged backgrounds, specifically refugees, immigrants and gay people. So it turns out "Harry Potter" may be an effective tool against prejudice.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is amazing because in the "Harry Potter" stories, periodically the people in this magical world that's largely out of the sight of ordinary people, their magic will burst into the open, burst into public. You're saying this is sort of happening.

VEDANTAM: It kind of is happening. And I think it points to one of the more interesting ideas in fighting determination, Steve, which is that the most effective way to do 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 that no amount of preaching can accomplish.

INSKEEP: Shankar, thanks very much.

VEDANTAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

(SOUNDBITE OF "HARRY POTTER" THEME SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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