“Some children believe that their ability to perform a task is dictated by the amount of natural talent they possess for that task,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Andrei Cimpian, who led the study published in the journal Psychological Science.
“Previous studies have demonstrated that this belief can undermine their performance. It is important, therefore, to understand what leads children to adopt this belief,” adds Cimpian.
The researchers hypothesized that exposure to broad generalizations about the abilities of social groups induces children to believe that success depends on “natural talent.” If the hypothesis were correct, then hearing messages such as “girls are very good at this task,” should impair children’s performance by leading them to believe that success depends primarily on innate talent and has little to do with factors under their control, such as effort.
Two experiments with 4- to 7-year-olds showed that the children performed more poorly after they were exposed to information that associated success on a given task with membership in a certain social group, regardless of whether the children themselves belonged to that group.
“These findings suggest we should be cautious in making pronouncements about the abilities of social groups such as boys and girls,” Cimpian says.
“Not only is the truth of such statements questionable, but they also send the wrong message about what it takes to succeed, thereby undermining achievement—even when they are actually meant as encouragement.”
The research team also included scientists from Sun Yat-sen University, in Guangdong, China; and Carnegie Mellon University.(futurity)