Brainology #5

“Brainology” by Carol S. Dweck

Read and listen to the next part of the text:

The wonderful thing about research is that you can put questions like this to the test — and we did (Kamins and Dweck, 1999; Mueller and Dweck, 1998). We gave two groups of children problems from an IQ test, and we praised them. We praised the children in one group for their intelligence, telling them, “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.” We praised the children in another group for their effort: “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” That’s all we did, but the results were dramatic. We did studies like this with children of different ages and ethnicities from around the country, and the results were the same.

Here is what happened with fifth graders. The children praised for their intelligence did not want to learn. When we offered them a challenging task that they could learn from, the majority opted for an easier one, one on which they could avoid making mistakes. The children praised for their effort wanted the task they could learn from.

The children praised for their intelligence lost their confidence as soon as the problems got more difficult. Now, as a group, they thought they weren’t smart. They also lost their enjoyment, and, as a result, their performance plummeted. On the other hand, those praised for effort maintained their confidence, their motivation, and their performance. Actually, their performance improved over time such that, by the end, they were performing substantially better than the intelligence-praised children on this IQ test.

Finally, the children who were praised for their intelligence lied about their scores more often than the children who were praised for their effort. We asked children to write something (anonymously) about their experience to a child in another school, and we left a little space for them to report their scores. Almost 40 percent of the intelligence-praised children elevated their scores, whereas only 12 or 13 percent of children in the other group did so. This suggests that, after students are praised for their intelligence, it’s too humiliating for them to admit mistakes.

The results were so striking that we repeated the study five times just to be sure, and each time roughly the same things happened. Intelligence praise, compared to effort (or “process“) praise, put children into a fixed mindset. Instead of giving them confidence, it made them fragile, so much so that a brush with difficulty erased their confidence, their enjoyment, and their good performance, and made them ashamed of their work. This can hardly be the self-esteem that parents and educators have been aiming for.

Often, when children stop working in school, parents deal with this by reassuring their children how smart they are. We can now see that this simply fans the flames. It confirms the fixed mindset and makes kids all the more certain that they don’t want to try something difficult — something that could lose them their parents’ high regard.

How should we praise our students? How should we reassure them? By focusing them on the process they are engaged in — their effort, their strategies, their concentration, their perseverance, or their improvement.

“You really stuck to that until you got it. That’s wonderful!”

“It was a hard project, but you did it one step at a time and it turned out great!”

“I like how you chose the tough problems to solve. You’re really going to stretch yourself and learn new things.”

“I know that school used to be a snap for you. What a waste that was. Now you really have an opportunity to develop your abilities.”

Go to the class Moodle site to take Brainology Quiz #5 about this part of the text.

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