Here’s another reason for Harry Potter fans to cheer their favorite books and author J.K. Rowling.
According to three new studies conducted by Loris Vezzali of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, people exhibit a marked difference in empathy and tolerance for others before and after reading the Harry Potter books.
The article, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, studied how children and university students treated “out-groups” and found that subjects who read the books were more accepting of those people who are different than they are:
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). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis.
Scientific American summarized the study result this way:
Of course there are many factors that shape our attitudes toward others: the media, our parents and peers, religious beliefs. But Vezzali’s work supports earlier research suggesting that reading novels as a child — implying literary engagement with life’s social, cultural and psychological complexities — can have a positive impact on personality development and social skills.
I gotta say, that’s pretty cool. I think I may need to thank my parents for starting me reading as early as they did.