Good stories have magical powers, particularly their ability to captivate people and open their hearts and minds to new possibilities.
When it comes to the popular Harry Potter stories, it turns out they may even be more magical. According to research by social psychologist Dr. Loris Vezzali and colleagues, stories about Harry’s exploits to vanquish all kinds of malevolent forces may also have the power to curb intolerance of gay people and immigrants in real life.
“Harry Potter empathizes with characters from stigmatized categories, tries to understand their sufferings and to act towards social equality,” according to Dr Loris Vezzali. “So, I and my colleagues think that empathic feelings are the key factor driving prejudice reduction.”
Findings from Dr. Vezzali’s research are published in the 2014 issue of Applied Social Psychology, in an article titled “The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice.”
For the study, Vezzali and his colleagues conducted three experiments in which elementary school, high school and college students in Italy and the United Kingdom read selected passages from Harry Potter novels and then took parts in discussions and completed questionnaires to assess changes in attitudes about groups, such as immigrants and gays, who are subject to prejudice.
“The world of Harry Potter is characterized by strict social hierarchies and resulting prejudices, with obvious parallels with our society,” says Vezzali, “Harry has meaningful contact with characters belonging to stigmatized groups. He tries to understand them and appreciate their difficulties, some of which stem from intergroup discrimination, and fights for a world free of social inequalities.”
Based on his study, Verzzalli suggests that creating educational curriculum that incorporates “fantasy books that have characteristics similar to those of the Harry Potter” can enhance student’s “attitudes and behaviors.”
And for the rest of us constantly searching for the best ways to make communications magic, it’s nice to know stories still work the best.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, July 2014
Loris Vezzali and Dino Giovannini, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia
Sofia Stathi, University of Greenwich
Dora Capozza, University of Padova
Elena Trifiletti, University of Verona