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How Storytelling Can Offset Negative Effects of Discrimination

Wharton management professor Samir Nurmohamed talks about his latest paper, which finds that underdog self-narratives can help employees offset the negative psychological effects of prior discrimination and boost their confidence.

iscrimination is a particularly destructive force. For those who experience it in the workplace, discrimination can rob them of self-worth and ultimately affect job performance as they feel increasingly marginalized. Wharton management professor Samir Nurmohamed has a new study that looks at an important tool employees can use to push back against the negative psychological consequences of discrimination: the self-narrative.

The paper is titled “Against the Odds: Developing Underdog Versus Favorite Narratives to Offset Prior Experiences of Discrimination.” The co-authors are Timothy G. Kundro, organizational behavior professor at University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, and Christopher G. Myers, management and organization and health professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School.

Nurmohamed joined Knowledge at Wharton to talk about the study. Listen to the podcast above or keep reading for an edited transcript of the conversation.

Knowledge at Wharton: What made you want to study this topic?

Samir Nurmohamed: I got interested in the topic of underdogs and this idea that when you’re perceived as unlikely to succeed, does that motivate you or not? A lot of existing research said no, that being an underdog was really bad for effort and performance, and it would reduce confidence. In some of my other research, I was finding that’s not always the case, that there are times where actually being seen as an underdog could be motivating. It can motivate you to prove others wrong.

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