Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Racial essentialism correlates with less domain-general creativity.

Interesting observations from a group at Tel Aviv University:
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? We suggest that the functional utility derived from essentialism induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity. Across studies, using both individual difference measures (in a pilot test) and experimental manipulations, we found that an essentialist mind-set is indeed hazardous for creativity, with the relationship mediated by motivated closed-mindedness. These results held across samples of majority cultural-group members (Caucasian Americans, Israelis) and minority-group members (Asian Americans), as well as across different measures of creativity (flexibility, association, insight). Our findings have important implications for understanding the connection between racial intolerance and creativity.
Some details: Participants in the study were primed by reading an article that vividly described fictitious scientific research supporting either racial essentialist or nonessentialist beliefs, respectively. (Work by others had established the effectiveness of these articles in activating racial essentialism or nonessentialism mind-sets). A control group read neither article. Then, in an ostensibly unrelated research project, they measured creativity in the three conditions using the Remote Associates Test (RAT). This task, which assesses participants’ ability to form a new combination that links mentally distant associative elements, requires identifying a single target word that is strongly associated with three distinct stimulus words (e.g., given the words “manners,” “round,” and “tennis,” the correct answer would be “table”). Their experiment suggesting closed-mindedness as the mediator of the essentialism-creativity link used the same priming procedure and assayed insight creativity using the Duncker candle problem, in which participants have to figure out how — using only a candle, a pack of matches, and a box containing tacks — they can attach the candle to a wall so that the candle burns properly without dripping wax on the table or floor. (The correct solution requires the ability to relax preexisting assumptions about functions of the items and use the box of tacks as a candleholder.)

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