I plead guilty to trading in stereotypes once in a while. For example, I’ve somehow gotten the idea that East Africans are especially good distance runners, and I think I’ve even said as much on a few occasions. But I don’t know this to be true. I’ve never done the work to verify that East Africans are statistically superior at distance running. It just seems that every time I flip on ESPN and happen on a long-distance event, an East African is winning.
This kind of stereotyping seems harmless enough, but is it? I intend it with admiration rather than disrespect, but new research suggests that whether stereotypes are positive or negative may be irrelevant. Attributing any ability to a particular social group may be damaging, contributing to the belief that natural talent is more important than hard work, which in turn can undermine effort and achievement, especially in children.
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