Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Laura Crysel and colleagues used an online Harry Potter community to get access to the more committed fans found there, and asked them to complete a personality test. Each fan reported their favoured House, and the results showed that significant average personality differences existed between the fans of the different Houses.
Griffendors were the most extraverted, Hufflepuffs more agreeable, Ravenclaws sought more need for cognition, meaning they are excited by intellectual challenge, and Slytherins reported more of the "Dark Triad" personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. As even casual fans of the series will attest, these personality traits are reasonable characterisations of the fictional members of each House.
The feature of the Harry Potter story that I found curious was the sorting hat, used to allocate new magic pupils to one of these four Houses according to their qualities, abilities and beliefs. And following the sorting, the pupils went on to live up to the predictions: those joining Slytherin, for instance, became venomous bullies, cheats or thieves. At face value, it seemed as if the author JK Rowling was endorsing essentialism: people are what they are, or will turn out a certain way in a deterministic fashion, fated to the dark side. But I wondered also whether there was a rather sly critique going on about self-fulfilling prophecies (see our recent work on expectations about poverty to see real-world parallels).
You can turn the same kind of questions from the books to the readers in this study. Were our reader Slytherins always going to top the league for these Dark Triad traits, or did they start mainly thinking that snakes were cool, then, through a process of group identification, increasingly identify with more behaviours and attitudes endorsed by their fictional school-mates, through hundreds of pages? This is something the study can’t answer for us, but due to its influence, longevity, and presentation of characters over time, the Potter series would be a good candidate for examining how fictional in-groups shape our attitudes.
Crysel, L., Cook, C., Schember, T., & Webster, G. (2015). Harry Potter and the measures of personality: Extraverted Gryffindors, agreeable Hufflepuffs, clever Ravenclaws, and manipulative Slytherins Personality and Individual Differences, 83, 174-179 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.04.016
Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.