Harry Potter & The Power of Stories

15 May

sunset

I was driving into work the other day, listening to NPR like I always do on my morning commute, when a segment came on about two of my favorite topics: the power of stories and Harry Potter!

I didn’t think it was possible for me to fall more in love with Harry Potter. I mean, I was 11 when Harry turned 11 in Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine (and I’m still a little bitter I never got my owl invite to Hogwarts). But hearing this NPR segment just made me love the series that much more.

In the segment, Steve Inskeep speaks with social science expert, Shankar Vedantam, who reports that: “New research suggests that school kids who read and identify with Harry Potter display more positive attitudes toward people from disadvantaged groups.”

NPR pulled this research from a study called “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter,” conducted by Loris Vezzali. The study measures the attitudes of elementary, high school, and college students in Italy and Britain before and after they read Harry Potter books or watched Harry Potter movies.

According to the results, exposure to Harry Potter stories changes the attitudes of children toward people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Because Harry and his gang are often portrayed as outsiders, children identify with them and, as a result, form a more positive attitude toward “outsiders” in their own communities, specifically refugees, immigrants, and gay people:

“So it turns out “Harry Potter” may be an effective tool against prejudice,” said Vedantam.

Stories and the Power to Change Minds

This idea – that storytelling has the power to change minds and hearts – is echoed in a recent This American Life episode: “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind” (what can I say?…I really like NPR). The episode is split into three parts, each chronicling a group that successfully changes someone’s mind on a polarizing issue.

In part I, gay-rights canvassers in Los Angeles take to the streets of communities that voted against gay marriage in a recent election. The canvassers’  goal is to change the residents’ minds on the issue. The amazing thing about this story is that, in large part, the canvassers achieved their goal. Many of the communities that voted against gay marriage in the initial election swung for gay marriage in the next election.

The study found that the canvassers who were successful did two main things that contributed to their success:

  • 1. connected to the voter through a personal story, and
  • 2. listened

They found that the canvassers who used rational rhetoric like statistics or grand moral arguments had lower success in changing people’s minds. However, those who listened to the residents  with no conversation agenda – and asked questions to lead the residents to change their minds on their own had higher conversion rates, not just in the moment, but even a year later.

In addition to listening and drawing out voters’ own stories, the study found that canvassers who told their own personal stories changed voters’ minds at much higher rates than those who didn’t tell personal stories. Canvassers who told stories about their own struggles and relationships were much more likely to change voters’ minds long term, especially when the canvassers themselves were gay.

What Living Literarily Means to Me 

What I love about these real-world studies is they reveal the power stories have, not just to entertain us, but to affect our brains, and our decisions, and our ability to empathize with people.

These studies affirm why I started this blog in the first place. Living Literarily, to me, means letting stories and art and creativity seep into our everyday lives. Letting it change us.

What many see as a silly children’s book series has the power to change real peoples’ minds about real issues. That’s real power. And that’s what I love about stories.

Photo cred: Jordan McQueen 

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One Response to “Harry Potter & The Power of Stories”

  1. gerl1202student May 15, 2015 at 2:24 am #

    Reblogged this on mediadossierengels.

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