Human beings take on the traits that are ascribed to them, or at least they often do. In studies about minorities and oppressed groups, people did worse on tests after being reminded about negative stereotypes of them. Sometimes we hear of studies like this and don’t really see how they apply to our lives, so I want to give some anecdotal evidence from my own life of this phenomenon. It’s amazing how powerful our perceptions of ourselves can be.
A few weeks ago my office all took the Strengths Finders test. You answer a bunch of questions and it tells you what your innate talents are, where you can excel the most. I got input, learning, intellection, competition, and achievement. Basically the first three mean that I really really love to think and learn lots and lots oh my god, and the second two mean that I’m ridiculously driven. Now I already basically knew these things, however in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed myself making choices that conform to these skills more and more, and doing so while thinking of the labels.
As an example, today I chose to go to academia.edu for the first time and look up some papers that I found interesting to expand my knowledge base, as well as to prep for some writing I wanted to do. Now I had decided long ago that I wanted to do this writing, and so I may have gotten around to taking this step eventually, but I literally went through the thought process of “I need to feed my intellectual brain. I should look up research”. I specifically volunteered for a project at work that involved research even though I’m not particularly interested in relational databases because I realized I could be more knowledgeable about something.
In addition, I’ve also noticed that I’m giving myself more and more permission to be competitive. I’m noticing that when I do well at something, I say to myself “Yeah, I’m competitive and I just won something! VICTORY IS MINE!” I’ve also found myself choosing not to engage in things that will absolutely completely definitely lead to me losing because I know my competitive side will be incredibly unhappy. Finally, I’ve been paying more attention to my conceptions of fairness, and labeling things as “unfair” when I feel that I’m on an unequal playing field with someone so that I can those things in a less competitive light. All of this because of a label for something that I already knew I was.
It’s incredibly interesting to see how I’m reinterpreting a variety of my actions in light of this new label, and how I’m working to mold myself closer to these things, owning them as opposed to seeing them as negatives or weaknesses. It’s interesting to think of how differently I might have acted had some of my other strengths been at the forefront of my mind the day I took the test. I’m sure there are other ways that I have molded my behavior to fit these expectations that are less conscious, but I found this an interesting and insightful example of some commonly known psychology in action.