The dangers of belonging to an elite

Broad generalisations can have a negative impact on a person's performance, new research has found. Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study suggested stereotypes, even when positive, can undermine an individual's achievements when taking part in a challenging activity.

According to the investigation, people who are told they belong to an elite group - such as students or chess players, for example - may be hampered in their efforts as a result.

Professor Andrei Cimpian of the University of Illinois explained children may tend to think their ability is determined by their natural talent - and these beliefs are given grater gravitas when youngsters are exposed to sweeping generalisations.

He observed: "Not only is the truth of such statements questionable, but they also send the wrong message about what it takes to succeed, thereby undermining achievement."

Caution must be exercised, therefore, when people look to make pronouncements about the gerneral abilities of social groups, Professor Cimpian added.

Dr Ioan Rees, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Stereotyping is dangerous because it's based on subjective opinion, yet has great impact on the lives of people. 

"Children for example, can grow up believing in stereotypical, societal impressions about them and their peers, making it difficult for them to break-free from feeling they have to behave and conform to that which is 'expected' of the stereotype. 

"In a nutshell - they can live out the stereotype."