Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Maria Konnikova - How We Think Is How We Are: The Power of Self-Stereotyping


The Big Think site posted this article by Maria Konnikova on how we define ourselves through own self-identifying stereotypes. She argues that "how we think about our own selves is largely determined by how we think others think of us—how we are perceived, judged, and evaluated by the outside world."

Another way of looking at this is through the lens of attachment theory. When we do not experience healthy mirroring (a Self Psychology term for our need to have caregivers be supportive of our presence, our actions, our uniqueness, and who show this support through smiling, laughter, and joyfulness) during infancy and toddler years, we grow up more dependent on how we are viewed by others as our way of defining ourselves.

The lack of healthy mirroring is the root of a lot of self-identity issues - everything from the ubiquitous "co-dependence" issues of addictive relationships to depression and other mood disorders, to the more extreme borderline personality disorder (or, more accurately, complex PTSD) that can occur when a lack of mirroring is combined with neglect or abuse.

How We Think Is How We Are: The Power of Self-Stereotyping

Aging
As we make sense of the world around us, our minds often take shortcuts, generalizing, cutting corners, making connections and engaging in inferences as they integrate all of the incoming information into a cohesive whole. And as we make sense of people, we typically engage in the exact same practice: when we meet someone for the first time, we’ve likely formed multiple judgments—often without realizing we have done so—before our new acquaintance has even had a chance to speak a single word. We take a look, and we generalize based on what we know and what we’ve learned through past experience. It’s far easier than having to start fresh every single time.
That process of initial, nearly instantaneous judgment is often driven by prevailing stereotypes, our own as well as those of our society as a whole and our immediate circle in particular. But what is less commonly known—or at least considered—is that we apply the exact same process to ourselves, often without realizing we are doing it: how we think about our own selves is largely determined by how we think others think of us—how we are perceived, judged, and evaluated by the outside world.

Stereotype threat in aging
One area where effects of self-stereotyping play out to quite dramatic effect is aging. It is typically thought that as people age, their memories grow worse and their cognitive abilities suffer a general decline. And unfortunately, that type of thinking seems to actually affect how the elderly actually think and remember. Studies have shown that when aging stereotypes are activated, older adults actually begin to exhibit larger memory deficits and worse performance on tests of cognitive ability. But, the news isn’t all bad: the opposite is also true. When such stereotypes are given less weight, memory and cognitive performance both improve.

A study in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science examined whether older adults would perform better on one of the memory tasks that is most often compromised as a result of aging, item-specific processing. Typically, as we age, we rely more on relational processing than item-specific processing when we make memory judgments. That is, we focus on relationships between words and concepts as opposed to differentiating information for a specific word or concept. And when we do that, individuating item information is less available when we retrieve that item from memory. So, for instance, we may find it difficult to determine if an item was actually shown before or if it’s just similar to one that we’ve seen before—creating, in a sense, a false memory. But what if the age-related stereotypes that relate to memory declines are eliminated?
 Read the whole article.

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