A paper from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology lists 8 studies that provides evidence to support the the notion that potential might actually overshadow achievements.
The forth study in this series had participants evaluate art. Two paintings were presented by two different artists and ninety-two participants were asked to choose which painting they preferred. At the beginning of the experiment, information about the artists (except identities) were given to participants. Then participants, which were divided into three groups, were shown the actual paintings with captions underneath corresponding to each group:
Painter Name: Artist M. Painter Age: 31. The painting above was completed in 2011, and many critics felt that the artist had the potential to win a major art award in the art community – The Freddleston Prize- in 2012.
Painter Name: Artist N. Painter Age: 30. The painting above was completed in 2011, and won a major art award in the art community – The Freddleston Prize- in 2011.
Painter Name: Artist N. Painter Age: 30. The painting above was completed in 2011, and won a major art award in the art community – The Freddleston Prize- in 2011. Artist N also won three previous Freddleston Prizes.
The first group represented the artist who had potential. The second group represented the accomplished artist who had won 1 award. The third group represented the accomplished artist who had won 4 awards. Participants preferred the art of the artist with potential more than they did of the accomplished artist.
However, this effect was reduced when participants were told that the accomplished artist had also won three previous awards. Nonetheless, participants of this study preferred the art of the artist with potential over the accomplished artist’s artwork (Tomala, Jia, Norton, 2012).
Discussion and opinion
The results of this experiment are fascinating. The same preference for potential was observed in the other 7 studies as well. Depending on how strong this preference for potential really is there are many real life applications.
Whether you are a student writing an application essay or an inexperienced job applicant applying for that dream job, keep in mind that people seem to prefer potential over your accomplishments. Reference your potential in that job interview or application essay and you might possibly beat out the accomplished competition.
One explanation for this preference might be that potential is exciting and unknown. Potential could be great or it could be lousy. Its a gamble of sorts, but people find this exciting and that is why potential beats accomplishments.
Image Credit: Lawrence Windrush