The talent myth

success-sign-exit-270x300Some of you may have heard me talk about the ‘Talent Myth’ – the belief that people who are brilliant academics or sportsmen or singers etc achieve their success because they are endowed with special abilities. There is much evidence that this isn’t true – the key factor in success is effort not talent. One line of evidence relates to the effect of expectations. A recent study illustrated this using the mental rotation test, a test where participants have to mentally rotate objects. When girls are told beforehand that males perform better than females on a test this negatively affects their performance – such information creates a ‘stereotype threat’. The negative stereotype creates anxiety and this has a bad effect on performance.

The link to the talent myth came in a special feature of this study. The participants (200 high school students) were divided into 4 groups. One group was told that the reason men do better is due to genetic gender differences. A second group was told girls just need more time, they could do better if they have more time.  A third group was told that stereotypes were to blame, making girls feel less able than they are. The fourth group was a control given no further information.

The stereotype effect was only observed in the first group presumably because it made girls feel there was no point in trying because they were doomed. Interesting the boys who were given the genetic explanation also did worse than the other groups – possibly due to increased anxiety because they feared might not live up to their potential.

So the talent myth has a negative effect on everyone. The take way message is you are always better off believing that your performance is not regulated by some innate talent. It can always be improved with training and practice. When taking any test prime your own self-belief by saying things such as ‘I can do a little bit better by trying a little bit harder’, ‘With focus I can do be very best’, ‘I am as good as anyone else’.

Read more here.


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