Reading fictional stories may do more than entertain us. Researchers have found evidence that they may help to reduce prejudice against outgroups. Over a six-week period, grade five students in Italy were read passages from the Harry Potter novels that were either neutral (e.g., Harry purchasing his wand) or related to prejudice (e.g., Draco insulting “mudbloods”). The students completed self-report measures of their attitudes towards immigrants before and after this intervention. For students who identified with Harry Potter, there was a reduction in negative attitudes towards immigrants. In a second study, high school students in Italy were asked to complete two questionnaires. One asked about exposure to the Harry Potter novels and overall book reading and television viewing, and the second surveyed social attitudes with some items measuring contact with and attitudes towards homosexuals. Students who had both read more Harry Potter books and identified with its main character, had more favourable attitudes towards homosexuals. A third study used a college student sample and found that in the students who disidentified with the villain of the books (Voldemort), more exposure to the Harry Potter films was associated with better attitudes towards refugees. Although there are some limitations to the design of these studies, this research program lends support to the idea that fictional stories can supplement educational programs for reducing prejudice in youth.
Posted by Tonia Relkov.
Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., Giovannini, D., Capozza, D., & Trifiletti, E. (2014). The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
Harry Potter is a mixed bag. It doesn't teach tolerance as much as the author's particular blend of tolerance and intolerance.
Readers won't, for instance, come away with a favorable view of either journalists, one of Rowling's particular hates, or of the magic world's equivalent of a government bureaucracy. There's no tolerance for either.
Even though the novels are centered on a school, teachers come across exaggerated in one way or another. Teachers are wise and brave. They're snide, cruel and evil. They're vain and foolish. But I can't recall a single one that's ordinary.
I also wouldn't put much trust in social science research. I once worked in that field, handing their research data. Most of the work was incredibly sloppy, typically surveys, in part because they didn't have the budget for anything better. Social scientist also are nearly as clever as physicists or chemists, so often their research will contain serious flaws, particularly cause and effect relationships.
Much is also aimed at predetermined ends, in fitting with the prejudices of the researcher and his profession. All in all, I was glad to exit that job. It disturbed me that people would take serious the kinds of results our researchers were achieving.
--Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily's Ride
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