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Episode 126: Who Were You Before The World Changed You?

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Do you have a label?

Whether that’s about your personality, your behaviour or even your job.
Do other people label you?

Unfortunately the way the brain works it means that labels are important.
We create shortcuts in the brain, called heuristics, to speed things up and labelling is one of the things it does to make our lives easier.
It helps us to pick out a threat in a hurry and so became a very useful instinct.

But, in a modern world what it can do instead is create stereotypes, which then create the conditions that lead to a self fulfilling prophecy that seeks to confirm the original labelling.

Back in the 1980’s 2 psychologists, John Darley and Paget Gross from Princeton University, created a study which is often known as “The Hannah Study”.

They showed a video of a girl, called ‘Hannah’ to two different groups, one group saw her in a wealthy area and the other group saw her in a poor neighbourhood.

Afterwards both groups watched another video that would assess her academic ability, they watched a video of her taking a test in school where she got some questions right and some wrong.

This video was identical in both groups but what they found is that the group that watched Hannah in an affluent neighbourhood described her as having above average academic ability whereas the group that watched her in a poor area described her as having below average academic ability, even though both saw exactly the same recording of her testing.
They’d labelled her from the start.

Other experiments have shown similar outcomes.
Social Psychologist Mark Snyder set up some 10 minute phone calls with 51 men and women, but before the call was placed they showed the men a picture supposedly of the woman he’d be talking to, but it wasn’t.

The picture was one of two that had been chosen from a previous study to be of a woman that was either very physically attractive or unattractive.
They were asked to simply chat for 10 minutes and afterwards the man was asked to give his impression of what the woman was like to talk to.

Not surprisingly, the women that were supposedly more attractive were described more positively.
The men had labelled the woman before the call was even made.

But here’s the really interesting bit.
The recordings of the phone calls were used in a further study in which people were asked to listen for some specific things.
They were asked to listen for examples of things like flirtatiousness, enthusiasm and friendliness.

What they found is that the women who, without even knowing, were being perceived by the men they were talking to as physically attractive actually spoke in a more flirtatious and likeable way.
The women who were being thought of as unattractive were less friendly and more cold or aloof.

It transpires that the way the man had labelled the woman changed the way that HE treated her in conversation and so she responded appropriately.
Showing that if you think of someone in a negative way it actually brings out their negative qualities.
And vice versa, think of someone in a positive way and you’ll treat them in such a way as to bring out the positive traits to their personality.

So be careful how you label people, especially yourself!

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