A new study conducted by Italian researchers offers evidence that kids who read the "Harry Potter" series are less prejudiced than their peers who didn't read the books, according to a paper published by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

The paper hypothesized that "extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve ... attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refugees)," and based on several experiments conducted with elementary and university students in both Italy and England, researchers say that that assumption was proven (mostly) true. Researchers compared students who said they read the J.K. Rowling fantasy series with those who did not, and found the Potterheads to have more open and accepting views of those different than them.

The study also noted the importance of readers identifying with Harry, instead of his arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, finding that those who were empathetic to the protagonist were more likely to express empathy toward others. New York Magazine's Science of Us blog noted that that's one of the major caveats of the study, since kids who relate to Harry are probably already more sensitive than their peers. Another issue is that fans of the "Potter" books also tend to come from more liberal households than those who don't read the series full of spells, wizardry, and witchcraft.

Still, Loris Vezzali, the head psychologist of the study, told Science of Us that he hopes the findings eventually help persuade educators to add Rowling's books to their curriculum, since they'll help teach diversity, in addition to being fun reading for kids and adults alike.

"The books do not directly refer to real-world groups, and so their message can be easily applied to several stigmatized categories," Vezzali told the blog. "Encouraging book reading and incorporating it in school curricula may not only increase the students' literacy levels, but also enhance their prosocial attitudes and behaviors and ultimately help in the creation of a more equal society."

[via Science of Us, h/t Paste]

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

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