Another group read a passage about prejudice in which Draco Malfoy, a shockingly blond, full-blooded wizard, calls Harry friend Hermione adirty half-blood. “A week later, the children’s attitudes were appreciated, and those who had read the passages on prejudice had greatly improved their attitude toward immigrants. Natalie Phillips, a literature specialist who participated in the study, suggested that the subjects’ reading increased blood flow to the parts of the brain responsible for processing language. Suppose you read the words “lavender,” “coffee” or “cinnamon.” “You feel the expected activity in the left temporal lobe, but you also have activity in the olfactory cortex, which lights up just as when you actually smell those smells,” “he” says. One of my favorite authors is Jane Austen. In one of my favorite studies, doctoral students in literature were given a Jane Austen novel to read, but not on the couch. How do books manage to put us in someone else’s body? A look at the brain–or rather, the various areas that are activated and coordinated when we read–gives us a clue. What if I told you that the empathy we feel for characters can make people less racist? That’s exactly what Dan Johnson demonstrated when “he” used Saffron Dreams, a novel written from the perspective of an American Muslim woman, to explore whether empathetic reading can reduce racial prejudice. The other half read a synopsis of a 500-word passage, with all the facts, but without the rich inner life of the character, the dialogues or metaphors, or the sensory details that make the book vivid. Instead, they read Austen on an fMRI machine, which displays brain activity by recording changes in blood flow. When the participants who read the factual review were asked to identify the race of the person in the image, they were disproportionately inclined to classify the angry faces as Arabs. Bookworms can be stereotyped as tacky, socially awkward loners, but reading literature helps us read the room. Imagine the need for a leader to read a novel from the perspective of an enemy combatant before taking aggressive military action. Children can also improve their understanding of stigmatized groups through reading, such as the study with the first Harry Potter book in Italy, a country where immigrants are often stigmatized. I know that some people play fantasy soccer; I play fantasy fiction seminars, and my “players” are those who most need the brain boost that literature causes, namely heads of state and politicians. It turned out that readers of fiction did better on this test, and I think that’s because when we read, we train ourselves to accept someone else’s point of view. We would get a world in which decisions are made on the basis of empathic ideas processed by the brain, which experiences increased blood flow in many parts of the brain.