Think yourself to win (or lose)

How Stereotyping Yourself Contributes to Your Success (or Failure)
People's performance on intellectual and athletic tasks is shaped by awareness of stereotypes about the groups to which they belong. New research explains why— and how we can break free from the expectations of others.

Although some have jumped to the highly controversial conclusion that differences in attainment reflect natural differences between groups, the roots of many handicaps actually lie in the stereotypes, or preconceptions, that others hold about the groups to which we belong. For instance, a woman who knows that women as a group are believed to do worse than men in math will, indeed, tend to perform less well on math tests as a result. The same is true for any member of a group who is aware that his or her group is considered to be inferior to others in a given domain of performance—whether it is one that appears to tap intellectual and academic ability or one that is designed to establish athletic and sporting prowess. Just as women’s performance on spatial and mathematical tasks is created by, and appears to “prove,” the stereotype of their spatial and mathematical inferiority, so, too, the sporting performance of a team of long-failing underdogs will tend to live up (or, in fact, down) to its low expectations.