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Does membership of elite group shore up performance?

United States America,Science/Tech, Wed, 25 Apr 2012 IANS

Washington, April 25 (IANS) Does being labelled as a member of an elite group shore up your performance on tasks related to your area of expertise?


Not necessarily, say researchers who tested how sweeping pronouncements about the skills or likely success of social groups can influence children's performance.


They found that broad generalisations about the likely success of a social group - of boys or girls, for example - actually undermined their performance on a challenging activity, the journal Psychological Science reports.


"Some children believe that their ability to perform a task is dictated by the natural talent they possess for that task," said Andrei Cimpian, psychology professor at the University of Illinois, who led the study.


"Previous studies have demonstrated that this belief can undermine their performance. It is important, therefore, to understand what leads children to adopt this belief," Cimpian added, according to an Illinois statement.


The researchers hypothesised that exposure to broad generalisations 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.


In line with this hypothesis, researchers conducted two experiments on four to seven-year-old children, which demonstrated that they performed poorly after they were exposed to information that linked success on a given task with a certain social group, regardless of whether the children themselves belonged to that group.


The study included scientists from the Sun Yat-sen University, in Guangdong, China; and the Carnegie Mellon University.


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