World-class athletes who retire sometimes audition for Cirque du Soleil. They vary in whether they sustain injuries during the initial classes that determine whether they can perform with the circus. A recent study suggests that a kind of enhanced self-confidence most strongly distinguishes those who will not be injured from those who will. (It turns out that this result is already known to hold with athletes, which may be why the NY Times says the research is off-beat.)
The researchers looked at a quality called self-efficacy, which in psychological terms is a kind of enhanced self-confidence, the feeling that you are easily capable of performing the task ahead.
The hypothesized cause is that lack of confidence distracts one’s attention and so makes one more vulnerable to injury.
That is also a very commonly hypothesized link for what creates “stereotype threat,” which refers to what happens when someone refers to a group to which one belongs and which is stereotyped as sub-par in its performance. Drawing attention to their gender can affect women’s and girl’s performance on math tests, for example. Ditto for white guys and basketball.
It seems at least reasonable to worry that when people are treated differentially, and some are encouraged to feel self-efficacy and others do not receive that encouragement, or less of it, the latter are given an additional burden that will tend to degrade their performance.
It does not take much imagination to see that making women feel like the outsiders they in effect are is going to harm women’s performance still more. And the same goes for other minorities in the profession, including ethnic minorities and disabled students and faculty.