Psychology and YAL: When Two Disciplines Inform Each Other.
One of my favorite moments at the 2014 LSU Young Adult Literature Conference and Symposium came during author Matt de la Peña’s address, when he explained that, from the moment he knew what a college education was, he knew he wanted to study psychology, and that he thought and understanding of psychology was crucial for successful writers. Up until that time I had been feeling a bit like the proverbial fish out of water, as the lone psychologist in a sea of English teachers, education professors, literary scholars and writers. Matt reinforced my view that the behavioral sciences can inform YAL, and vice versa.
Over the last few years, I have evolved from occasional comments on “serious reader” Harry Potter blogs (www.hogwartsprofessor.com) to actively applying my training as a psychology professor to some of my favorite YA series. For example:
- I have spoken (http://www.mbc.edu/news/2012/11/01/professor-couches-harry-potter-in-psychological-terms/) and written (https://journals.shareok.org/studyandscrutiny/article/view/121) about Muggle psychiatric disorders illustrated by characters in Harry Potter.
- These depictions may have measurable effects: work by Mary Baldwin Global Honors Scholars found that Harry Potter readers are more empathic and less likely to stigmatize people with mental illness than non-readers. (http://www.mbc.edu/news/2015/10/30/students-take-their-turn-on-potter-psychology/)
A collaboration with English teacher Martha Guarisco showed that completing a reading unit about Wonder was associated with higher perspective taking skills on a common empathy test (http://www.yawednesday.com/blog/archives/02-2015); we are currently testing whether the same is true of The Crossover, and if the changes in empathy are associated with theory of mind skills.
I have twice presented at the annual Harry Potter conference at Chestnut Hill College. (http://www.harrypotterconference.com/) on ecopsychology within the series and on its empathy-inducing attributes.
- Part 1 will deal with the concept of fear conditioning and how, in some patients (including many of our favorite Hunger Games characters), it can lead to PTSD. https://youtu.be/eQKKBfbfPQI
- Part 2 will address how Peeta’s hijacking is treated and what that tells us about modern day therapies for PTSD. https://youtu.be/KRUYueLBhRs
- Part 3 will look at some recent memory-modification studies in mice to address the question of how feasible a process like hijacking might be. https://youtu.be/JIgRWaATp1g
I hope that, as the study of YAL becomes more interdisciplinary, that we will see more psychologists joining the discussion and investigating both psychological themes within the books themselves, and the effects of reading them on both the young, and the young at heart.
Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., Giovannini, D., Capozza, D., & Trifiletti, E. (2014). The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45(2), 105-121.