Looking back on my adolescence, I can say with confidence that reading Harry Potter was probably one of the more integral aspects of my childhood. I would stay up past my bedtime reading in secret under my blankets with a flashlight, hoping I wasn't caught before I could finish a chapter.
When my parents were going through their divorce, sitting down with Harry Potter became a place for me to escape the troubles of my real life. Basically, it gave children everywhere a sense of security and belonging. Though I realize how important the books were to the younger me, I might still be blind to just how much of an impact they ended up making on me as an adult.
Thanks to a recent article posted to Smithsonian.com, we now have evidence that suggests if you grew up a reading the Harry Potter series, it may have helped make you into a better, more tolerant person.
The Italian psychologists behind the study "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice," state their hypothesis intended to prove that by reading the Harry Potter series, children who were able to identify with the Boy Who Lived were better able as children and young adults (between elementary and college aged students) to become more understanding and less prejudiced people overall:
We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees).
As it turns out, their researched paid off when their hypothesis was correct:
Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (inItaly and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negative character (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement.
NPR’s Shankar Vedantam also reported on the findings and on how the books could be used as a tool to teach children to ignore in-group favoritism and be more accepting of disadvantaged groups. Vedantam says in the story:
I think it points to one of the more interesting ideas in fighting determination...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.
While there are bound to be outliers, people that weren't affected by the books in this way, I think this theory seems pretty reasonable. Personally, I've never met a fandom more accepting and kind than those of the Harry Potter franchise.
Being a part of the Harry Potter fandom didn't just mean reading fantasy books and dreaming of becoming a wizard. It also meant learning that it was okay to be different and to stand out.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione weren't born into traditional wizard aristocracy and they were far from the most popular kids at Hogwarts. Still, that didn't stop them from being exceptional in their own ways. They were weird, quirky trio who never felt truly at home until finding each other. What a better group to prove valuable life lessons to children?
So, there you have it! The lessons in Harry Potter didn't stop taking their hold when you put down the books, and they'll likely be carried with you your whole life.
In the off-chance I needed more reason to appreciate the world J.K. Rowling build, creating a narrative tool that teaches kids tolerance and kindness certainly did the trick.