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April 23, 2004

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Abiola Lapite

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One point I've just made by email to Tabarrok is that his explanation for the difference, if correct, would hold not just when gender differences are salient, but also when other attributes that influence beliefs about ability are at issue.

In particular, given a minority group that believes the decks stacked against it in competition for university places, jobs and so forth, the belief that the outcome of any competition is a foregone conclusion can lead to less effort, bringing about the very situation members of the group were worried about to begin with. I think the relevance of this to American conditions is fairly obvious ...

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Frank McGahon

That's true! A self-fulfilling prophecy.

You know what: it also provides a good hypothesis for the dismal impact "majorities" have had in certain sports. If you are utterly convinced that you can never make it as a basketball player, you will not find the requisite motivation for that goal.

Two other examples which are tangentially related:

1) I watched Master and Commander the other day. One character, became something of a scapegoat. Even though he was completely blameless, the crew became convinced that he was bad luck. Everything bad that happened had some connection to him. Eventually he couldn't take it and killed himself. The ship's "bad luck" immediately ceased. Not because he was "bad luck", but the fact that everybody believed he was bad luck, made it if not actually so, then functionally so.

2) A Channel 4 programme recently depicted some British people building a holiday home in Greece. The local builders wanted to sacrifice a chicken when laying the foundations. This, they contended, would ensure good luck. Needless to say, the clients were horrified and refused to countenance this (even though it was likely they would eat a chicken later on that day which was presumably alive at one point). It occurred to me that, if I were in their place, even though I am a rationalist and non-superstitious, I would have assented to the sacrifice. Not because I believe it will bring good luck, but because I would prefer not to employ builders to erect a house they believed was doomed and for whom, every single mishap and catastrophe was inevitable, predestined.

Abiola Lapite

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"if I were in their place, even though I am a rationalist and non-superstitious, I would have assented to the sacrifice. Not because I believe it will bring good luck, but because I would prefer not to employ builders to erect a house they believed was doomed and for whom, every single mishap and catastrophe was inevitable, predestined."

Indeed, the rational thing to do here would be to bow to the irrational superstitions of others. Odds being what they are, it's an eventuality in any situation that lasts long enough that something will go wrong, and when you have people on the watch for "omens" and so forth, well ... Let's just say that in the admittedly unlikely event I ever were to become a powerful dictator bent on invading Russia, I wouldn't choose the 22nd of June to begin my campaign.
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