Study says reading Harry Potter makes you a better person

Study says reading Harry Potter makes you a better person

Reading Harry Potter can change your life. You give up football to play Quidditch.  You put sticks of butter in your beer to make butterbeer. Every September, you go to King's Cross, and slam your shopping cart into a brick wall, hoping you'll pass through to platform 9 and 3/4. But did you know that reading Harry Potter can make you a better person?

It's not magic - it's science. According to a new paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology, "reading the 'Harry Potter' series significantly improved young peoples' perception of stigmatized groups like immigrants, homosexuals or refugees."

Here's how the study worked: One group of fifth graders read Harry Potter, and another group did not. When they discussed prejudice, those who identified with Potter showed "improved attitudes on immigrants." When they did the experiment with high school students, Potterheads had more positive perceptions of LGBT people. Then, when they did the experiment with college students, members of Dumbledore's Army had more "improved attitudes toward refugees" (and, we assume, people named "Neville").

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Author J.K. Rowling once said, "The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry." The Pacific Standard notes the parallels to Nazism:

"Bigotry, the researchers note, is a continuing theme in the series of phenomenally popular young-adult novels.

Voldemort, who represents pure evil, makes arguments that have ‘rather obvious’ parallels with Nazism, they write, noting that he believes all power should reside in ‘pure-blood’ witches and wizards, as opposed to those born of one magical parent and one non-magical ‘Muggle.’

In addition, Harry and his friends interact with various sub-human species such as elves and goblins, who regularly complain about being forced into subservient roles, not unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. Harry ‘tries to understand them and appreciate their difficulties."

In the Harry Potter world, "half-blood" and "Mudblood" are offensive terms. ("Mudblood" refers to a witch or wizard whose parents are "Muggles," with no magical ability.) This is similar to how Nazis used the term "Mischling" to describe Germans with half-Jewish/half-Aryan ancestry. Also, Voldemort's "Dark Mark" is kind of like a swastika.

J.K. Rowling elaborated on the comparison:

"The expressions ‘pure-blood’, ‘half-blood’ and ‘muggle-born’ have been coined by people to whom these distinctions matter and express their originators’ prejudices.

As far as somebody like Lucius Malfoy is concerned, for instance, a muggle-born [wizard] is as bad as a muggle. Therefore Harry would be considered only half-wizard because of his mother’s grandparents.

If you think this is far-fetched, look at some of the real charts the Nazis used to show what constituted ‘Aryan’ or ‘Jewish’ blood.

I saw one in the Holocaust Museum in Washington when I had already devised the ‘pure-blood’, ‘half-blood’ and ‘muggle-born’ definitions and was chilled to see that the Nazis used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters.

A single Jewish grandparent ‘polluted’ the blood, according to their propaganda."

Rowling, in framing the story this way, took a stand against Nazism in her fiction.

Whether you're a Potterhead or not, it's great the series encouraged so many children to read, and made them better human beings. All Twilight did was encourage girls to enter abusive relationships.

The Pacific Standard puts it best:

"Perhaps arguments for open-mindedness are most effectively delivered underneath an invisibility cloak."