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When we are confronted to a situation that does not allow us to make a judgment, we rely on the labels

When we are confronted to a situation that does not allow us to make a judgment, we rely on the labels When we are confronted to a situation that does not allow us to make a judgment, we rely on the labels
Source: Guillaume Cornet via BoredPanda
Drunk Tank Pink And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave
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Drunk Tank Pink And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave
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Unfortunately, we're also incapable of ignoring social labels when assessing a person's intelligence.

(...)

In one classic study, two researchers showed that evaluators use labels as a tiebreaker when interpreting this sort of mixed evidence. In that study, Princeton University students decided whether a young Year 5 student named Hannah was performing above, below, or precisely at the level expected of an average student in Year 5. During the first phase of the experiment, the students watched one of two brief videos. In one of the videos, Hannah was shown playing in a landscaped park set in a wealthy neighbourhood. A quick sweep of her school suggested that it was modern and sprawling, graced with sports grounds and an impressive playground. While the students watched the video, they read a brief biographical report on Hannah, which mentioned that her parents were both college graduates and now professionals. This version of Hannah was associated with a series of very favourable labels: wealth, a good school, and educated parents who were employed as professionals. The other Princeton students were acquainted with a very different and less fortunate version of Hannah. They watched a video of Hannah playing in a fenced-in schoolyard with high-density brick buildings, set amid a neighbourhood of small, rundown family homes. This time, the biographical report described Hannah's parents as high-school (but not college) educated, her father working at a meat-processing plant, and her mother as a dressmaker from home. This time the labels were portentous, suggesting that Hannah would need to overcome socio-economic and educational hurdles before attaining academic success.

At this point, some of the students watched a second video, in which Hannah was asked to answer a series of twenty-five questions from an achievement test. The questions were designed to assess her mathematical, reading, science, and social-science skills. Instead of presenting a clear image of her ability, the video was ambiguous: sometimes she was engaged, answering difficult questions correctly, and sometimes she seemed distracted and struggled with relatively easy questions. The tape was designed to baffle the students, to leave them without a clear picture of her ability.

Hannah's ability was difficult to discern from the video, but some of the students began watching with the labels "wealthy" and "college educated" in mind, whereas the others began watching with the labels "working class" and "high-school educated" in mind. These labels functioned as tiebreakers when Hannah's performance was neither flawless nor disastrous. The students who expected Hannah to succeed saw exactly that pattern of achievement in her responses (ignoring her missteps and distractibility), whereas those who expected less from Hannah saw exactly what the negative labels implied (ignoring her intermittent engagement and mastery of the difficult questions). in the end, the lucky Hannah was judged to have performed above her Year 5 level, whereas her unlucky counterpart seemed to perform below Year 5 level. The Hannah study showed that people are suggestible, willing to view the world with the guidance of labels when faced with an otherwise unbreakable tie.

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