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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Feb 6, 2013 - 9:49:04 AM


Is there a link between racial stereotyping and creativity?
By Steve Ferber
Feb 6, 2013 - 9:47:56 AM

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An international team of researchers, in a rather unique study, has concluded that racial stereotyping (that is, the tendency for some people to stereotype people, based on race) inhibits creativity. Their findings have broad implications, not just for enhancing social tolerance, but for helping people maximize their own creativity.  
At the heart of the study is the term “racial essentialism,” defined as “the view that racial groups possess underlying essences that represent deep-rooted, unalterable traits and abilities,” according to an article published on www.latindiscussion.com.  In other words, racial essentialism represents a conventional mindset, a mindset not taken to consider alternate possibilities.  
But how does this relate to creativity? Researchers found that racial stereotyping and creative stagnation have a common mechanism: categorical thinking.  Explained lead researcher Carmit Tadmor of Tel Aviv University (as quoted in an article in Psychological Science): “Although these two concepts concern very different outcomes, they both occur when people fixate on existing category information and conventional mindsets.”
The fundamental conclusion, according to the article in latindiscussion.com: “Together, these studies suggest that essentialism exerts its negative effects on creativity by changing how people think, as opposed to changing what they think.”
An article in psypost.org added the following:
“The research also suggests that essentialist beliefs are fairly malleable. While there are many different aspects that still need to be explored, Tadmor and colleagues speculate that it might be possible to use these findings to devise an intervention program that reduces racial essentialist beliefs, thereby leading participants not only to become more socially tolerant but also to unleash their creative potential in the process.”
In their study abstract, Tadmor and colleagues explained their central thesis: “Individuals who believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences use stereotypes more than do individuals who believe that racial categories are arbitrary and malleable social-political constructions. Would this essentialist mind-set also lead to less creativity?”
To study this, the researchers explored participants’ beliefs about racial essentialism, then had them take a popular test of creativity called the Remote Associates Test. According to the psypost.org story: “The participants were given three distinct words and they had to identify a single target word that linked the three words together. So, for example, given the words ‘manners’, ‘round’, and ‘tennis’, the correct answer would be ‘table’. The researchers found that participants primed with an essentialist viewpoint were less creative, solving significantly fewer of the word problems correctly than participants in the other two groups.”
In the research, Tadmor was joined by colleagues Melody M. Chao of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Ying-yi Hong of Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University and Beijing Normal University; and Jeffrey T. Polzer of Harvard University.
Steve Ferber is author of “21 Rules to Live By.”  He’ll have a book signing at Barnes & Noble (Mt. Pleasant Towne Centre) on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, at 2pm.

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