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How the Growth Mindset Reduces Negative Impacts of Prejudice

How the Growth Mindset Reduces Negative Impacts of Prejudice
Hi there. It’s good to see you. In this session you’ll learn about how the growth mindset can protect people against some of the negative effects of bias and prejudice. Unfortunately, every society divides people into groups based on categories such as race, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, region, and economic class. The possibilities seem endless. And then societies stereotype members of those groups as being more or less competent and worthy than others. Sadly these stereotypes and their negative affects play out everyday in playgrounds, in schools, colleges, communities, work organizations, and in politics. For example, some groups are stereotyped as being lazy or achievement oriented, having high or low intellect. Being naturally better or worse at math or at language skills.
Having the skills or the temperament to become a leader. Or more likely to be model citizens or dangerous to society than other groups. One of the many negative impacts of bias is called stereotype threat. Researchers have found that when people are in situations in which they feel evaluated, for example, when taking tests or while speaking up in classes or at meetings in which the groups that they strongly identify with, such as gender, race, class or nationality are negatively stereotyped. They are more likely to perform worse than they’re capable of performing, particularly on difficult tasks. Now researchers believe that their performance suffers because they are concerned about being judged, they feel more stressed, and they experience heightened performance anxiety.
As a result, they may find it hard to focus on the task. And they’re more likely to use narrow problem solving strategies which, in turn, can result in lower performance. When this happens repeatedly over time, stereotype threat can lead to poor overall performance. People who experience stereotype threat may choose easier academic or career options and opt out of courses or careers that require expertise in areas that are not as common for people in their groups. For example, studies have found that stereotype threat is associated with worse performance for girls and women in math in the US. African Americans and college entrance exams. European Americans in sports. Men, when they were assessed in their social sensitivity.
And the elderly on memory tests. Now, stereotype threat is considered to be situational, rather than something a person carries within them. That affects all situations. In other words, the same person may experience stereotype threat in one situation, but not in another. Consider test taking. In one experiment, simply adjusting the proportion of men and women was enough to have an impact on performance.
The researchers found that when women took a math test along with two other women, they got an average of 70% of their answers correct. Yet when the women took the same math test along with two men, they got an average of 55% of the answers correct. In another study, researchers found that African American students who were asked to identify their racial identity on an exam form prior to taking the exam, performed worse than the African American students who didn’t have to identify their racial identity on the exam form.
In still another study, white male engineering students with a history of excellent academic test scores performed worse when they were told that the test they were taking was designed to help the researchers understand Asian American superior mathematical abilities. In a particularly clever study, researchers Margaret Chi, Todd Pitinsky, and Amy Trahon found that Asian American women performed better on a test of quantitative reasoning when their identity as Asians, a group stereotyped in the US as being more competent in math, was primed to compare to a control group. Researchers call this stereotype boost.
However, the Asian American women performed worse than the control group when their gender identity as women, a group stereotyped in the US as being less competent at math, was primed. So, to prime the study participants’ identity all the researchers had to do was ask the participants to complete a survey before taking the test. And some research participants were asked to identify their ethnicity and answer five ethnicity related questions priming their Asian American identity. For example, they were asked about their family’s country of origin and how many generations their family lived in America. Other research participants were asked to identify their sex and answer five gender related questions, priming their gender identity.
For example, whether they preferred to live in a co-ed or single sex environment. And a control group of participants was asked to complete a survey asking questions that weren’t related to gender or ethnicity, such as how often they watched TV and how often they ate out. Now the power of these studies is that they demonstrate that very small situational ques can have a significant impact on performance, particularly when people are anxious about other people’s perceptions of their competence. And here is where the protective power of the growth mindset comes in. Just as small situational cues can trigger stereotype threat and poor
performance, small situational cues such as exposing people to the growth mindset, can also be used to minimize stereotype threat and enhance performance.
In one study researchers Joshua Aronson, Carrie Fried and Catherine Good recruited African American and European American college students for a study and told them they would be helping an organization called Scholastic Pen Pals. The study participants were told that the organization was designed to help improve the academic performance of seventh grade students who came from impoverished backgrounds. But the study was really designed to assess how learning, the growth mindset would affect the study participants’ college grades and their overall college experience.
To start the pen pal relationship, the researchers created handwritten letters from boys and girls in which the younger students described the struggles they were having in school, as well as some of their favorite school activities. In other words, the letters weren’t really from students from impoverished backgrounds. The college students, the study participants, who did not know that the letters they received weren’t from actual seventh grade students were each asked to write an encouraging letter to the younger student, telling the younger student that other students with challenges had succeeded in school despite the struggles they faced. The college students were also asked to give the younger students examples from their own life in which they succeeded despite challenges.
The participants in this study did not know what the researchers were interested in. And they were interested in learning how the college students own academic performance would be affected if they were exposed to training that taught them the growth mindset. Now to assess the growth mindset and the impact it had on the college students’ academic performance, the researchers divided the participants into two groups. One group participated in training that taught them the growth mindset, that intelligence is malleable and it’s like a muscle that gets stronger with practice. They were told that in addition to whatever else they wanted to say in their letter, to encourage the younger students. It was very important to get the malleable message across.
Because the younger students would be more likely to stay in school and work hard if they believed that intelligence expands with hard work, rather than if they believed that intelligence is a fixed quantity. The other group of college students participated in training that emphasized the fixed mindset. They were told that intelligence is made up of many different talents and that everybody has intellectual strengths and weaknesses. And that it’s a potentially devastating mistake to view intelligence as a single entity, because it may lead young students to give up entirely on education if they’re struggling in one subject.
They were told that it was very important to convince the struggling young students that there are many different types of intelligence, because they may be more likely to continue to learn in an attempt to find out and develop their areas of strength. What the researchers found was that the African American college students who were exposed to training, that reinforced the growth theory of intelligence, were more likely to get higher grades after they participated in the study than before the study. They also enjoyed their college experience more compared to the group that received the training that reinforced the believe that intelligence is made up of many talents.
And although there was a positive difference in the European American college students enjoyment of their academic experience and their grades after participating in this study, the difference was significantly smaller. The researchers speculate that exposure to the growth theory of intelligence benefitted the African American college students more, because they were more at risk for stereotype threat during their college experience. Now Dr. Dueck and her colleagues also found that people who have a growth mindset are more likely to confront someone who expresses a prejudiced opinion. Yet they’re less likely to cut off a relationship with someone who expresses prejudiced beliefs, leaving the door open for future interactions.
The researchers speculate that people with a growth mindset are more likely to believe that people who express prejudicial beliefs can change and can grow. The sad reality is that unfair and untrue stereotypes continue to exist in schools, communities, organizations, and societies. And unfair and untrue negative stereotypes can hinder people from setting high goals and achieving those goals. Developing a growth mindset is one strategy for resisting some of the damage these stereotypes can wreak on individuals, and of societies. So now you know about the power of having a growth mindset. To summarize, first, having a growth mindset increases effort, persistence, and resilience. Which in turn has significant impacts on performance.
Second, people can be taught the growth mindset through small, brief, and inexpensive interventions. And third, the benefits of a growth mindset may be even more important for people who are exposed to negative stereotypes, because it can protect them from the damaging effects of these stereotypes. And enable them to perform better, enjoy their work more, and take on more challenging studies and careers. In the next session we’ll turn to another kind of belief that can move you more successfully towards your goals. And that’s the power of what researchers call positive core self evaluations. Take care and I’ll see you soon. Thank you.
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