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Harry Potter Makes You Nicer

Written By Amber Breeden

September 26, 2019

We all know that reading makes you smarter, improves your vocabulary, and provides you with interesting tidbits to share at your next dinner party. But did you know that reading (especially fiction) can also improve your emotional intelligence? 

Reading allows us to experience the world from a viewpoint entirely unlike our own. We may not agree with it, but through reading, we can better understand it. To quote Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Or, if that sounds a little too macabre for you, you can do it the easy way—read.

Our CEO, Jon, often says that reading is the easiest way to build empathy. Fictional characters, in particular, draw us into stories. Aristotle believed that a good tragedy must elicit both pity and fear: pity for the character in the story and fear for ourselves. Without realizing it, we identify with fictional characters and begin relating their experiences to our own. In other words, we subconsciously flex our empathy muscles.

One book series that has proven successful in building empathy is Harry Potter. The allegorical messages and lessons J.K. Rowling weaves into her storylines are ones most of us value and try to teach our children: kindness, equality, love, loyalty, and tolerance. In 2014, a team of researchers in Italy and Britain decided to test the power of stories to influence behaviors through their study titled “The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice.”

The study found that those who were exposed to Harry Potter stories were less prejudiced against disadvantaged people, such as refugees, immigrants, and those in the LGBT community. And it seems that’s just what J.K. Rowling intended.

“The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry,” Rowling said. “And I think that it’s a very healthy message to pass on to younger people that you should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.”

Even more recently, a 2018 study conducted by psychologists David Dodell-Feder and Diana Tamir reviewed 14 other studies on the connection between reading and empathy. The authors found that reading provided a “small, statistically significant improvement in social-cognitive performance.”

So the moral of this story? Don’t be a jerk—go read Harry Potter.