Would you like to know a simple trick that can allow you to perform better in just a few seconds?
The answer has to do with stereotypes.
In one study researchers Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke from the University of Basel decided to test the effects of thinking about stereotypes to see how they affect performance.
Specifically they wanted to know if thinking about stereotypes of skilled people would help improve performance.
So they took college students and had them answer trivial pursuit questions to find their base level of performance in answering general knowledge questions.
They then divided these students into two groups. One group was asked to write about the typical characteristics of college professors. Another group was asked to write about cleaning ladies.
They then took another general knowledge test made of trivial pursuit questions. This time those who thought about college professors got more right and those who thought about cleaning ladies got a lot more wrong.
They determined through a questionnaire that having students think about college professors made them fee more confident about their knowledge base and therefore perform better.
They did another study in which they tested how stereotypes affected persistence.
They had college students hold a hand grip for as long as they can to see how long they would persist on this task. Then they had half of them do a writing exercise on stereotypes of athletes and the other half write on stereotypes of “permanently unemployed persons.” Both groups then did another hand grip test.
This time those who thought about athletes held the hand grip about on average about 7 and a half seconds longer than they did before. Those who thought about unemployed people held the handgrip for 16 fewer seconds than they did before. Those thinking about athletes got stronger, those thinking about unemployed people got weaker.
So what does this tell us?
To raise your performance quickly and easily think of a general stereotype that has the skills you need. If it’s knowledge think of college professors. If you need to be funny think of comedians.
One note of caution though, the stereotypes of people who lacked the skill participants needed – cleaning ladies are thought of as less knowledgeable and the permanently unemployed are thought of as less persistent – had the greatest negative effect on performance. So avoid thinking about the types of people who lack he skills you need when you’re about to do something important.
Second, other research shows this strategy does not work if you think of a specific person of extremely high ability like Picasso for artistic performance or Michael Jordan for athletic ability – the standard is too high and you may downgrade your self view in comparison to that person.
So when will you use this idea to help yourself? Leave a comment telling when you’ll use stereotypes to improve your performance.
Reference to the study mentioned in this article:
Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke “Think of Capable Others and You Can Make It! Self-Efficacy Mediates the Effect of Stereotype Activation on Behavior” from the journal “Social Cognition”