From parents and other family members to friends and peers, personalities are built by environment. Though people are important in the development of our own individual personality, there are other, different influences, including what you choose to read. The books you take the time to enjoy can make you nicer and more understanding, or leave you overall unchanged.
If you've ever read one of the Harry Potter books, there's a good chance the story and characters affected you. In fact, they probably opened your mind up and made you a more accepting person.
A group of researchers from Italy's University of Modena and Reggio Emilia studied the effects of J. K. Rowling's novels on elementary and high school students. Before delving into the stories, the children were asked about their views on people different from themselves, such as immigrants and the LGBT community. The participants were then split into two groups: one read prejudice-focused passages from the Harry Potter series, while the other read neutral, more lighthearted selections.
After spending more than a month with various Potter passages, the participants who read selections featuring prejudice and social divisions had new perspectives. The researchers saw a marked change in their participants' acceptance of others, and they were more understanding of different social groups. Hearing about the divisions between characters, such as the distinct categorization of people into pure, half, and mud-blood wizards, introduced the readers to prejudice and showed them the effects of facing such issues.
Because Harry and his friends are constantly in contact with people of different backgrounds, unique walks of life, and evil forces determined to kill, readers are introduced to social injustices and divisions within social groups. They see characters such as villain Voldemort and Hogwarts classmate Draco Malfoy belittle others based on income, class, intelligence, and even family. As readers relate to Harry and his group, they develop greater empathy for those who are different.
Not a fan of wizards and magic wands? The Harry Potter series isn't the only set of books that shapes us into better people; others can do the same.
Any work of literature that discusses prejudices, difference, or even positive attitudes can help shape our personalities. Rather than keeping our minds closed to other ideas and groups, stories with these facets connect us to groups which we wouldn't identify or interact. Books, in short, can improve our attitudes and perspectives without any face-to-face interaction.
There's even more good news for lovers of fantasy series like Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. In an interview with Scientific American, the aforementioned study's lead author, Loris Vezzali, said that fantasy books may be the most effective at changing our thoughts. Because these imaginary worlds focus on people, places, and societies that aren't real, they don't have to worry about being politically correct when depicting scenes of prejudice, or even interactions between different groups.
Whether you choose to watch your novels as films or even TV shows, entering worlds full of both intolerance and acceptance can teach us how we should interact with one another in reality. And hey—maybe we'll be a bit nicer overall.