Hidden Brain Puzzle (and answer): How does the use of Native American mascots for sports teams affect stereotypes about other groups?

By | Cool Findings, Diversity, Group Behavior, Law, Morality, News and Topical Issues, Sports | No Comments

American Indian mascots are a popular choice for sports teams. Controversy has raged, however, about whether such mascots encourage stereotypes about native Americans. New research suggests that there may be a problem of another sort entirely — the use of these mascots seems to increase stereotyping of other groups. The implications of the research are still not clear, but it is almost as though once your hidden brain is encouraged to use mental shortcuts such as “American Indian chief = sports warrior” it more easily comes up with other kinds of mental shortcuts that have nothing to do with American Indians. Sloppy thinking begets sloppy thinking.

Boosters point out the mascots are much loved and used respectfully. Recently, however, Chu Kim-Prieto, Lizabeth A. Goldstein, Sumie Okazaki and Blake Kirschner tested how the use of a University of Illinois mascot, Chief Illiniwek, affected the tendency of volunteers to stereotype an unrelated group — Asians. They randomized volunteers into groups — one read about or was shown materials depicting the athletics program and Chief Illiniwek and the other was given materials about a university arts center. All the depictions about Chief Illiniwek were exactly as boosters of American Indian sports mascots described — respectful and admiring. The researchers found that volunteers shown the American Indian mascot were quicker to come up with stereotypes about Asians that suggested Asians were socially inept, overly competitive, and not fun-loving.

The University of Illinois retired the mascot after reviewing these findings. Read more about the controversy here.

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PS: What do you think these data mean for the famous logos of these professional sports teams?

Playing It Safe

By | Blog, Cool Findings, News and Topical Issues, Sports | No Comments

There has been a lot of chatter recently about New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to take a chance on a fourth down play — a decision that turned out badly.

You don’t have to be a sports fan to be interested in the larger phenomenon the issue raises. We say we like to win, but very often, we believe in playing it safe. Human beings are far more averse to losses than they are receptive to gains, which is why when asked to choose, they err on the side of caution. Belichick did the right thing, and the data shows that if he sticks to his approach, he will win more often than he will lose.  Read a column I wrote about this — coincidentally, it talks about a similar play where Belichick’s gamble paid off. The point of course is not whether any individual gamble pays off, but whether the gamble pays off on average in the long term.