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~Wellesley Professor on Harry Potter: Truly Imaginary Wizards Encourage A Child's Creativity~

For immediate release:
Nov. 9, 2001


Arlie Corday, Public Information
Phone: 781-283-3321

WELLESLEY, Mass. - Harry Potter has captured the hearts of wannabe wizards and witches of all ages. On Nov. 16, the much-anticipated movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," will blast into American theaters. Until now, images of the world of Harry Potter have been rare since the books contain few illustrations. The movie changes all that, and according to a Wellesley professor and her student researcher, not for the better.

Last year, honors student and senior Samantha Roberts of Garrison, N.Y., worked with Beth Hennessey, Wellesley College professor of psychology, on research to examine the effect of story illustrations on children's creativity and imagination and their interest in and enjoyment of reading.

"Sam randomly assigned 30 fourth and fifth graders to one of two groups," Hennessey said. "Either they listened to a taped passage of Harry Potter while looking at an illustration of that passage, or they heard the passage and saw no illustration."

The children then drew their own pictures of the passage and were interviewed about their satisfaction with their artwork and their enjoyment of the passage.

"The main goal was to look at the impact of story illustrations," Hennessey said. Harry Potter books were just a convenient vehicle. But that choice enjoyed perfect timing since the data was gathered just before the deluge of Potter merchandise, in anticipation of the film, hit the stores.

"The imaginations of the kids had not yet been tainted by Potter action figures and the like," Hennessey said. The study seems to underscore the imaginative power of good old-fashioned story-telling. The findings also show that children's imaginations and creativity can be significantly influenced by a story illustration.

"We found definite, statistically significant, differences between the two groups of kids, both in terms of the creativity of their pictures and their interest in the Potter passage," Hennessey said. "Kids who had been shown a sample illustration were far less likely to produce a creative drawing themselves. They were also less likely to be interested in reading or hearing more about Harry Potter."

When asked if they planned to see the Harry Potter movie, 29 out of 30 of the children answered that they did. However, some expressed concerns about it. "I think the movie will take away from the book," one child said, "because reading the book won't be as exciting." Another said, "I'm going to see the movie, but it makes me mad because that's not the way I want to picture it."

Founded in 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in liberal arts and the education of women for 125 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students.


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