Yesterday I had the opportunity to deliver a workshop for a group of job-seekers being assisted with re-entry into the workforce. I had a little background on the group, and knew in particular that one of the participants was a middle aged man who was to all intents and purposes illiterate. This was an interesting challenge – there would be someone in the room who would assist when required, but I was conscious not to rely on written material as much as I usually do.
Point of the story is that despite believing myself to be a pretty open minded, non-judgmental type, I still found myself surprised when this guy turned out to be one of the more astute, thoughtful and collaborative participants in the workshop. Regardless of my best efforts, I has just assumed that illiterate would mean uneducated and less intelligent.
My saving grace was that after recent Study 1 lectures, I was very aware of the idea that my expectations could actually affect the behaviour of the participants. The feedback I had from one of the organisers was surprise at the level of engagement and performance (particularly from the gentleman with literacy issues). It was a pleasant surprise that the simple act of expecting exactly the level of participation I would expect from any other group apparently had such a significant effect.