The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concludes by noting that the Harry Potter novels may be especially effective at increasing the tolerance of their readers precisely because they concern themselves with made-up categories like Muggles and Mudbloods. More overt attempts to change readers’ views about real-life groups, Mr. Vezzali and his co-authors note, could prompt defensive or resistant reactions. By identifying with the fictional character of Harry Potter, and by drawing connections, conscious or not, between his treatment of people different from him and their own attitudes toward stigmatized groups, readers of these novels work their own kind of wizardry: the magic of the literary imagination.
Is anyone surprised that children’s books, which often feature outsiders, quirky kids, adventurous orphans, and nomadic heroes turn us into more empathetic people in real life? I remember talking for hours with my older sister about the adult conversations we overheard and wondering how those grown-ups could possibly say the things they said. It was not that we were young and innocent, and not even that we ourselves had a kind of outsider status as immigrants in a white, middle-class suburb, but that we were both voracious readers, developing an understanding of what it felt like to be marginalized or excluded–yet also brave and true–as we got inside the heads of David Copperfield or Jane Eyre.