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According To Science, ‘Harry Potter’ Makes Kids Better Human Beings

By Psquared - July 26, 2019
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The world can be a scary place sometimes. So it’s no wonder that we often retreat into the world of fiction to find heroes and make us feel better. But these heroes don’t just make us feel better while we’re visiting their worlds. They inspire us to feel better about our own realities, and help us see them in a new light. It makes sense, because after all, these fictional characters were created by people in our world, and they often reflect the values and hopes that we hope to see more in our day to day lives.

However, does engrossing yourself with made-up people have any impact on you at all? Or is it just entertainment that we use to pass the time? Well, it may be a lot more than that. It turns out that at least one super famous character with a gigantic franchise named after them can make you a better person…

Reading

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First of all, if you’re going to consume content in the hopes of becoming a better person, reading is the way to go.

This is especially true for children. If you have kids, you should encourage them to read as much as possible.

Reading helps expand your mind, vocabulary, patience, imagination and all sorts of other things. It really is fundamental. If only Reading Rainbow were still around to encourage children (okay, all of us) how great it is to open a book and take a look.

'Harry Potter'

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Now that we’ve established that reading is the best, we must ask the next logical question: what should we read?

Well, it turns out the answer is Harry Potter. Yes, we know that’s the popular answer, but it’s also the correct one.

It turns out that reading tales of the boy wizard won’t just give you endless hours of entertainment, but it will actually also make you a better person. Sounds unbelievable, we know, but there isn’t any magic at work here…

Science!

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Yup, it’s actually science that points to this conclusion. If it makes you feel better, science is basically just magic that we understand.

A group of Italian psychologists believe that children who identify with Harry Potter might develop greater empathy and tolerance toward people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They released a paper detailing their findings. It details how they analyzed three different groups of children for the study, which included adolescents and young adults: fifth graders, high schoolers and college students.

The Findings

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34 Italian students across these grades were then asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding immigrants.

And over the course of six weeks they were asked to discuss certain passages from the books. And what did they find?

Well, the students who could relate to Harry (as the books teach and encourage you to do) were found to have (and in some cases developed) more tolerance and empathy for groups such as refugees, immigrants and gay people. Why is that?

Disadvantaged

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Well, just look at the character of Harry Potter. When we first met him, he was in an abusive home living under the stairs.

He then found out he was the chosen one in a magical world and got to live at a freaking castle.

But he never forgot where he came from, and always looked out for the little guy and those in need. Especially with Dobby. That kind of empathy can apparently rub off on everyone who looks up to The Boy Who Lived.

LGBTQ+

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Surprisingly (or maybe not… we’ll get to that in a bit), students who identified with Harry were also shown to be more tolerant of those in the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s slightly surprising since in the series, there aren’t any outwardly stated characters who identify as this way.

However, author J.K. Rowling later claimed that Dumbledore was in fact gay. What was the community’s response to this? They ranged from not caring to being thrilled. So those positive views were implanted without having to soapbox about it.

Voldemort

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Here’s where things get somewhat interesting. Are you an adult that actually sympathizes with the Dark Lord Voldemort?

If so, then there’s a higher chance that you have a less favorable view of refugees, immigrants, LGBTQ+ members and even other minorities.

The study showed that older individuals that empathized with He Who Shall Not Be Named… weren’t the best of people. But we don’t think we needed a scientific research to learn that about folks who see a child murderer and think, “There’s a great guy!”

Humble Beginnings

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NPR’s Shankar Vedantam commented on how the story itself taught kids to gain such a tolerant attitude and be overall better people.

“Peppered throughout the stories are references to the fact that Harry wasn’t brought up in the aristocracy of wizard life.

At the same time, there are many characters in the story, many wizards who came from much more privileged backgrounds, who turn out to be the villains of the story.”

Now, of course this doesn’t mean the rich are automatically evil, but if they think they’re superior as a result of their wealth, they’re not the best.

Other Lessons

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The books also do a great job of showing these lessons in action versus telling us the moral of the story.

Kids don’t like being lectured at, and when you stand on a soapbox and preach, it can be easy for listeners to lose interest.

Of course, Harry Potter makes you a better person in many other ways, as there are all sorts of other great lessons to be learned (via showing) in these stories. Here are just a few.

People Are Complicated

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Too often, we think of people as either good or bad. But the truth is, we’re all shades of grey.

And not 50 shades… reading that book won’t make you a better person. But seeing the story of Professor Severus Snape unfold can open your minds.

He’s often seen as a villain but revealed to be a hero. However, he has done bad things and made mistakes along the way. But in the end, he did more good than bad, and that’s all we can hope for in life.

Respect For Nature

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Hagrid is a lovable giant, but he’s also the handler for several animals on the Hogwarts premises.

And yes, most of these beasts (okay, all of them) are fictional, but what isn’t fictional is how we’re shown the proper way to treat them.

In nature, dangerous animals should be treated with awe, but also respect. Yes, you may not run into any three-headed dogs, but if you do, don’t attack them. Give them the space they need and move on.

Doing What's Right

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We all like to think that we’d make the right decision when put in a difficult situation.

But it isn’t always that easy, and this story shows that. Voldemort took over at Hogwarts, so Harry and the gang had to go on the run.

There are some real world parallels to be seen here. It’s easy to fall in line and go along with what you’re told, but standing up for what’s right is sometimes not convenient, but necessary. That said, you shouldn’t defy authority constantly just for the sake of it, no matter how fun it may be.

Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover

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We know that personal taste is subjective, but the third Harry Potter novel Prisoner of Azkaban is objectively the best of the entire series.

The whole movie, we learn of Sirius Black and how terrible he is and how he’s a menace and responsible for the murder of Harry’s parents.

Yet, when we meet him, we learn that he was framed. This shows us that we should always keep an open mind and not believe everything we hear. Make your own conclusions instead of blindly following others.

Feminism

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Can we just say how much we appreciate the series for including Hermione Granger? She’s the best, isn’t she?

She’s the smartest and most talented wizard in the school, but yet she makes mistakes like any other character.

This shows that women can be just as and even more capable than men, which isn’t shown often enough in fiction. And when it is, it’s often shoehorned in or ham-fisted, so it loses its effect. Hermione is relatable but also awesome, and she inspires as much as Harry does.

In Summary

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Vedantam summed up the study by saying, “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.”