Can “trash talk” actually improve our performance?


It’s called “stereotype lift” and it’s the opposite of “stereotype threat”, which I addressed in this post.

When a negative generalization says our opponent is inferior or will do worse in a competition, we actually see an improvement in our own performance:

When a negative stereotype impugns the ability or worth of an outgroup, people may experience stereotype lift—a performance boost that occurs when downward comparisons are made with a denigrated outgroup. In a meta-analytic review, members of non- stereotyped groups were found to perform better when a negative stereotype about an outgroup was linked to an intellectual test than when it was not (d 1⁄4 :24; p < :0001). Notably, people appear to link negative stereotypes to evaluative tests more or less automatically. Simply presenting a test as diagnostic of ability was thus sufficient to induce stereotype lift. Only when negative stereotypes were explicitly invalidated or rendered irrelevant to the test did the lift effect disappear.

Source: “Stereotype Lift” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 39 (2003) 456–467

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