Racial stereotyping is often loosely characterized as close-minded behavior, but little research has been done to spell out exactly what that means. Do racist thinkers exhibit any other cognitive deficits? Is racial stereotyping a cause or an effect of some other generalized mode of thinking? Well, now researchers are one step closer to finding answers to questions like these.
A new study out of Tel Aviv University has found a link between racial stereotyping and creative stagnation, suggesting that racist thinkers just aren't very creative, according to MedicalXpress.com.
Researchers discovered that the prime mechanism shared by both racial stereotyping and poor creative performance seems to be categorical thinking, or "in-the-box" thinking.
"Although [racial stereotyping and creative performance] concern very different outcomes, they both occur when people fixate on existing category information and conventional mindsets," wrote researcher Carmit Tadmor and her colleagues.
The kinds of racist thinking that researchers focused on were subtle ones. They were primarily focused on subjects' faint beliefs in racial essentialism, or the view that certain racial groups possess underlying essences that represent unalterable traits and abilities (i.e., beliefs like "white men can't jump"). They influenced subjects' beliefs by having them read one of three articles: one that described fictitious scientific research supporting racial essentialist beliefs, one that described fictitious research supporting racial nonessentialist beliefs, or one about the scientific properties of water.
The subjects were then given a test aimed at evaluating their creativity, called the Remote Associates Test. The test works by giving a subject three different words, such as "manners," "round," and "tennis," and asking them to identify an association between those words. In this example, one correct answer would be "table."
Individuals who were asked to read the article that supported racial essentialist beliefs tended to score worse on the creativity test than individuals who read the other two articles. In other words, an individual's ability to think creatively seems to be directly correlated with whether they were trained to think categorically before the test.
These results do more than just show how racist thinking is close-minded. Perhaps more astutely, they provide evidence that closed-mindedness is largely a lack of creative thinking.
One bit of good news from the study is that it also suggests that essentialist beliefs are malleable. Individuals who read one article or another from the study did not necessarily possess established beliefs to begin with. So the fact that individuals' beliefs could be manipulated by what they were presented shows that categorical thinking is not itself an intractable category. Individuals can therefore improve their capacity for creativity by simply fostering a more open-minded approach to subjects like race.
In this way, the study could have profound impacts on education practices in general, especially if the aim is to foster creative thought.