Empathy Series Article #2: “Psychology behind Harry Potter books”

*Featured piece of full article below (Scarlet, 2014). Read the full article here: https://www.superhero-therapy.com/2014/10/psychology-behind-harry-potter-books-post-1-of-3-compassion/

“In reading the Harry Potter series we learn what cruelty is, we are reminded of what unspeakable horrors human beings are capable of, and most importantly, we are reminded of how amazing human beings can be. Through seeing the world through Harry’s eyes, we hurt when he hurts and we heal when he does too. As readers, many of us can connect to Harry, or perhaps one of the other characters, whether it is Ron, Hermione, or one of his other classmates, such as Neville or Luna. We might also connect with one of his teachers, such as Lupin, or Severus Snape. And through this connection we understand, and for many of us, remember, what it feels like to be bullied, to be mistreated, to be put down, and through the trials and triumphs of our heroes, we might heal too.


Throughout the stories we learn about pain and we also learn about compassion. Compassion is the ability to understand what another being is going through (empathy) and the desire/action to alleviate the suffering of that being. For example, when Harry found out how terribly Dobby, the house elf, was treated by the Malfoy family, he empathized with the elf (having been physically abused by the Dursleys) and wanted to help him. He ended up figuring out a way to trick Draco’s father into setting Dobby free.
Perhaps one of the most touching examples of compassion is seen in the last book/movie, the Deathly Hallows. When Severus Snape, a teacher Harry loathes, is dying from a toxic snake bite, Harry comforts him. Gently holding Snape’s face with his hand, Harry stays with him until he passes, a scene that broke many of our hearts.


Several studies have found that reading the Harry Potter series produces meaningful benefits in terms of increasing empathy in the readers, as well as assisting the readers with coping with painful experiences, including grief, bullying, and dealing with prejudice. For example, one study found that children who read passages from Harry Potter relating to prejudice reduced their own prejudice toward immigrants (Experiment 1) and toward the LGBT population (Experiment 2). Another study found that reading such passages of Harry Potter resulted in activation of brain regions related to pain and empathy. The reason why the pain regions of our brain might be involved in the processing of Harry Potter chapters, is because when we identify with certain characters, we might start to feel what they feel. Let’s say that someone really likes Neville, that person would probably feel pain when Neville is being pushed around by Draco or embarrassed by Snape. Taken together, these studies highlight the importance of engaging works of fiction, such as Harry Potter, in teaching compassion and perhaps promoting altruism in its readers.”

By: Dr. Janina L. Scarlet, Founder of: https://www.superhero-therapy.com

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