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  • Bhavya Kapoor

The “Harry Potter Effect”

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

– Harry Potter from the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling


Most of us, if not all, can remember the days when we read "Harry Potter" for the first time. The scoldings we earned from our teachers for reading the book under our desks during classes, from our mothers for reading it on the dining table while eating food and, above all, the arguments it got us into with the librarian when she did not have the next book of the series will always stay with us in our memories. The magic of the wand had engulfed us all, soon everyone in the class was seen tearing sheets of paper from their books to make a wand and scream the famous spells like Wingardium Leviosa, Expelliarmus, Stupefy and Avada Kedavra at each other. However, little did we know at that time the wealth these books had brought us.


For the unheard, though I doubt there will be any, "Harry Potter" is a series of seven fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard, Harry Potter, and his friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The main story arc concerns Harry's struggle against Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard who intends to become immortal to overthrow the wizard governing body known as the Ministry of Magic and subjugate all wizards and Muggles (non-magical people). A series of many genres, the world of Harry Potter explores numerous themes such as prejudice, corruption, madness and also includes many cultural meanings and references.


In a study titled "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter", researcher Loris Vezzali and his colleagues analysed the attitudes of elementary school students, high schoolers, and college students in Italy and Britain before and after they read Harry Potter books. As a word of background, Harry Potter is a wizard who helps the forces of good triumph over the forces of evil. But peppered throughout the stories are references to the fact that Harry was not brought up in the aristocracy of luxurious life. At the same time, there are many characters in the story, many wizards who came from much more privileged backgrounds, like Bellatrix Lestrange, who turn out to be villains during the course of the story. The researchers found that exposure to Harry Potter stories changes the attitudes of children and young individuals toward people from disadvantaged backgrounds and that the more the children connected to positive characters such as Harry, the less likely they were to display prejudices toward ethnic groups different from their own.


The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, first surveyed a group of 34 fifth-graders regarding their attitudes toward immigrants. Then once a week for six consecutive weeks, researchers read kids specifically selected passages from Harry Potter that dealt with issues of prejudice and their consequences. When children were surveyed again about their views on immigrants, children who identified with protagonists like Harry and disidentified with antagonists like Voldemort showed improvement in their attitudes towards out-groups.


Researchers then conducted a follow-up experiment that surveyed how 117 high school students felt about Harry Potter books and their general social attitudes. Results revealed that consuming Harry Potter stories were associated with improved attitudes towards stigmatised groups. The elves, goblins, and other stigmatised characters in the books that do not exist are indicative of the real stigmatised categories of society and helped people associate with them.


Finally, Vezzali and his colleagues looked at another group of 75 undergraduate students. After completing questionnaires on how much Harry Potter they read along with what characters they identified with and their feelings on refugees, results showed that reading Harry Potter books was associated with understanding the perspectives of refugees, especially among those who identified with positive characters.


Still, Vezzali is careful to point out that books alone will not make juveniles better people. The best way to accomplish this is by exposing children to different ethnic groups and cultural experiences throughout their life.


In the end, to portray Harry Potter as a magical solution would be all too easy, Vezzali says. "Harry Potter can be a good tool, but alone it too can’t erase prejudice from society."


Bibliography:

Vinopal, Lauren. " 'Harry Potter' Books Will Make Kids Better People, Study Shows". Fatherly. 30 Nov, 2017. Web. 15 Sep, 2022, <https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/harry-potter-books-makes-kids-better-people>



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