It’s awesome when science confirms something you already thought, like that maybe fantasy stories are not bad for you but actually help you function in the real world because they stretch your brain. Researchers at Lancaster University, UK, have completed a study that shows how children who have just experienced an imaginary world have an enhanced capacity to view the real world from multiple perspectives.
In the study, the researchers split pre-school-aged children into two groups and showed them scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The clips were all similar in emotional content, characters, pacing and action, except one group of kids got the scenes with nothing magical in them, and the other group got the clips that contained stuff like magic spells, magic broomsticks, and talking animals.
The kids were rated on their ability to perform creative tasks before and after watching the clips (they had to do drawings, make up their own original actions, act out roles, and think up multiple uses for a plastic cup. They were scored based on their originality, imagination, and the number of creative solutions they could come up with.
Before watching the clips, they all scored similarly, but afterwards the children who had seen the magical scenes scored significantly higher. Their beliefs were not altered (they didn’t believe magic was real), but watching the fantasy clips improved their overall creative performance. The researchers said, “books and videos about magic might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively.” How cool is that? So now you can immerse yourself in fantasy as guilt-free self-improvement time. Thank Science.
Also, I found this little moment of beauty in the paper, where the researchers are explaining “magical thinking”:
One boy believed that by saying the proper words he could cause gorgeous birds and butterflies in his father’s illustrated manual “to come to life and fly out of the book, leaving holes behind them.”
You can read the full paper here: “Watching Films with Magical Content Facilitates Creativity in Children” by Eugene Subbotsky, Claire Hysted, and Nicola Jones, Lancaster University, Psychology Department, UK