Date of release: Monday, August 4, 2014

Dr Sofia StathiYoung people who have read the Harry Potter books are less likely to be biased or prejudiced against minority groups, according to a new study involving the University of Greenwich.

Dr Sofia Stathi, pictured, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the university, carried out the research alongside academics from three Italian universities.

Young people reading JK Rowling’s best-selling books about a boy wizard were more tolerant towards groups such as immigrants and refugees, the study found. Readers strongly identified with the character of Harry, who stands up for minority groups of people and creatures in the novels.

In the first part of the study researchers surveyed 34 Italian children in year five of primary school, who filled out a questionnaire about their attitudes towards immigrants. They then read excerpts from the Harry Potter series, focusing on parts that had something to do with prejudice or bigotry. After reading the books, the children answered questions about immigrants again, and showed increased empathy towards the latter – especially if they also identified strongly with the main character.

Dr Stathi, from the university’s Faculty of Education & Health, says: “The negative consequences of prejudice and stereotyping affect minority groups even in liberal societies. My colleagues and I have been working on various methods that aim to improve intergroup attitudes and relations among children and adults. Book reading, in this case Harry Potter fantasy books, can provide a first step in tackling prejudice, when the reader identifies with the main character of the books, via increasing empathy toward people with different identities.”

The other researchers were Loris Vezzali and Dino Giovannini (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia), Dora Capozza (University of Padova) and Elena Trifiletti (University of Verona). The study has been published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

The academics also examined a group of older college students in England and their attitude towards refugee groups. In this second stage, they found that the books had a similar effect on these older students.

Various subplots in the novel wwere also explored, with researchers finding parallels between the evil Voldemort and Hitler. Voldemort believes that all power should be given to ‘pure-blooded’ witches and wizards, and not the stigmatised group known as ‘mugbloods’.

A range of national and international media coverage has resulted from the study, including articles in the Huffington Post, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Medical Daily, as well as many blogs.

To find out more about studying with the university’s Department of Psychology and Counselling, within its Faculty of Education & Health: www.gre.ac.uk/psychology-counselling

* To find out more about Clearing at the University of Greenwich, and to see our latest vacancy lists, go to http://www2.gre.ac.uk/study/courses/clearing or call 020 8331 9000.

Story by Public Relations