Small rounded glasses, a scar on the forehead, and an arch-rival who can’t be named; unless you’ve lived under a rock, you have already pictured in your mind the character of Harry Potter. Everyone, from the younger generation, through to parents and adults, have acknowledged the adventures of the young wizard.
Books, movies, gadgets, museums… Everything about Harry and his friends has been said and done in one form or another. But, maybe what you didn’t know is how much the legendary boy wizard could have affected your child’s moral judgement. A team of talented, young researchers have recently published a research project detailing how reading the books of Harry Potter helps to improve attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees). We were given the opportunity to interview the researchers Loris Vezzali and Sofia Stathi, to find out more:
Can you tell us about your research? What was the aim of the study, and which approach did you choose?
We aimed to demonstrate that some fantasy books, like those of Harry Potter, may foster tolerance and reduced prejudice towards stigmatized group’s in our society. To test this hypothesis, we adopted an empirical approach (i.e., we used experimental and correlational methodological designs).
How did you come up with this idea?
We had already worked on the potential of books to foster tolerance.
In reading Harry Potter, we realized that it has important aspects that may increase its effects compared with those of other books. First, it is very popular and readers of all age like it and are willing to identify (and thus follow) the main characters. Furthermore, fantasy characters do not directly represent real social categories (e.g., elfs do not refer to real groups such as immigrants); as such, empathic feelings toward one stigmatized fantasy group (which may be connected by readers to various social categories) may extend to several real social groups.
Why did you choose Harry Potter as subject and not another teen saga?
Because of its popularity, we believed easier to obtain results (readers could be strongly identified with main characters), and we could more easily contact readers of various age that had read it.
Nowadays kids do not enjoy reading as much as surfing the Internet and social media, where often kids get bullied. Do you think this will impact their tolerance on stigmatized groups?
Education (and reading) in general relates to lower prejudice, so people that read less are more likely to display more prejudice. However, the most relevant problem that you highlighted is not that kids do not read (although this is certainly a problem), but that they come easily in contact with environments where discriminatory behaviour is shown, and where social norms do not point toward defending disadvantaged targets. Since individuals follow social norms, something should be done…
Do you think that is possible to fight prejudice through literature?
We certainly think so. Naturally, prejudice should not be fought exclusively through literature; however, literature can be a powerful weapon against social injustices. The role of teachers, parents and educators, also in helping children to grasp book messages, is crucial.
So, what other stories would you recommends for kids before bedtime?
Reading should be a pleasure. So, we recommend stories that are fun and let people fantasize and dream. If then these stories also refer to fighting against injustices, than their potential for forging better person is surely much higher!
If you want to know more about the research, you visit the following link.