Predictably Irrational – Asian American women & mathematics

This past weekend, I finished reading the book, “Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,” by behavioral economist and author Dan Ariely, which I found to be quite interesting and educational and an easy and enjoyable read overall. If you liked Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink, you will most likely enjoy reading Predictably Irrational. Behavioral economics is essentially the study of how humans behave economically, rather than in pure, rational economic theory (the study of economics is based on the assumption than humans are always rational, especially over the long-term). In chapter 9, “The Effect of Expectations – Why the Mind Gets What It Expects,” Ariely gives describes this experiment testing Asian American and women stereotypes:

“Research on stereotypes shows not only that we react differently when we have a stereotype of a certain group of people, but also that stereotyped people themselves react differently when they are aware of the label that hey are forced to wear (in psychological parlance, they are “primed” with this label). One stereotype of Asian-Americans, for instance, is that they are especially gifted in mathematics and science. A common stereotype of females is that they are weak in mathematics. This means that Asian-American women could be influenced by both notions…Those who had been reminded that they were women performed worse than those who had been reminded that they were Asian-American. These results show that even our own behavior can be influenced by our stereotypes, and that activation of stereotypes can depend on our current state of mind and how we view ourselves a the moment.”

The results, by the time you get to chapter 9, are not surprising. This made me think, on a daily basis, how are the Asian American stereotypes that we live with effect our performance and behavior in every day settings? How often are we “primed” by our bosses, our peers or our environment that unconsciously effects us?

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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