Those who have nothing do not believe in their talents

- EN - DE
© Tiago Bandeira (via Unsplash)
© Tiago Bandeira (via Unsplash)

Socioeconomic background affects people’s self-perceptions and associated chances of success

People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds consider themselves to be less talented - even when they show the same performance as people from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. This misperception subsequently contributes to their further disadvantage. Social psychologist Christina Bauer and colleagues from the University of Vienna and Freie Universität Berlin have now publishedthese key findings from their latest research in the current issue of the renowned Journal of Experimental Social Psychology - and proposed possible solutions to this problem.

People’s chances of success depend strongly on their social background. For example, children of academics often pursue academic careers themselves, while children growing up in poverty often remain poor as adults. Not only financial resources but also social factors play a role. For example, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are often seen as less talented by others - such as their teachers - which can contribute to experiences of discrimination. But how do socioeconomic backgrounds and related experiences affect people’s perceptions of themselves? And how does this socialized self-perception influence broader chances of success?

Lower socioeconomic status - less talent?

To answer these questions, Christina Bauer’s team conducted six studies with over 3,000 people in different countries. The results showed that even 14-year-old students from a low socioeconomic background consider themselves to be less talented - even when they have the same good grades as their peers. This socialized distortion of self-perception is not without consequences: it contributes to people with low socioeconomic status feeling less comfortable in achievement contexts and therefore less able to contribute there easily - with far-reaching consequences for their chances of success.

Flei principle instead of talent focus as a possible solution

One way to mitigate disadvantage is to give greater social recognition to the importance of qualities such as diligence and hard work rather than talent. Indeed, people with lower socioeconomic status consider themselves less talented, but not less hardworking. Accordingly, the research team was able to show in one of its experiments that disadvantages of students with lower socioeconomic backgrounds in university studies could be reduced if diligence rather than talent was emphasized as a decisive factor for their performance. The situation was different when the university emphasized that talent was particularly important - then their disadvantage was especially pronounced.

In further studies, the researchers plan to look more closely at the socialization processes that cause distorted self-perceptions. In doing so, they suspect that various processes - e.g. stereotypes, but also different experience with challenges that could be misinterpreted as a sign of a lack of talent - play a role.

Original publication:

Christina Bauer, Veronika Job and Bettina Hannover: Who Gets to See Themselves as Talented? Biased Self-Concepts Contribute to First-Generation Students- Disadvantage in Talent-Focused Environments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2023).

DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2023.104501 (online later this afternoon).