Making up people—The effect of identity on performance in a modernizing society
It is typically assumed that being hard-working or clever is a trait of the person, in the sense that it is always there, in a fixed manner. However, in an experiment with 288 high-caste and 294 low-caste students in India, cues to one's place in the caste system turned out to starkly influence the expression of these traits. The experiment allows us to discriminate between two classes of models that give different answers to the question of how someone's identity affects his behavior. Models of the fixed self assume that identity is a set of preferences. Models of the frame-dependent self assume that identity entails a set of mental models that are situationally evoked and that mediate information processing. Our findings suggest that the effect of identity on intellectual performance depends sensitively on the social setting. This perspective opens up new policy options for enhancing human capital formation and development.
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