Extracts from an article by Carol S. Dweck – Scientific American- posted in UP news
“More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort – not on intelligence or ability is key to success in school and in life”
Never tell your child that s/he is brilliant
It has been found that students begin to lose interest because of the inflated self esteem. While society believes that intelligence talent superior ability are all attributes that help students pass their exams research shows that this is not necessarily so. The belief that they are “smart” makes young people lose interest in making an effort to overcome the challenges of study and work. This reduced effort causes them to perform below their potential. Furthermore the advent of failure becomes a threat to their ego rather than an opportunity to improve. This fear results in loss of confidence and motivation when the work is no longer plain sailing and easy. Studies have shown that “teaching people to have a “growth mind-set” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and life.”
The Opportunity of Defeat
Dweck writes, “I first began to investigate the underpinnings of human motivation and how people persevere after setbacks – as a psychology graduate student at Yale University in the 1960s. Animal experiments by psychologists Martin Seligman, Steven Maier and Richard Solomon of the University of Pennsylvania had shown that after repeated failures, most animals conclude that a situation is hopeless and beyond their control. Researchers found, an animal often remains passive even when it can affect change-a state they called learned helplessness.”
Why do some students give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas others who are no more skilled continue to strive and learn? One answer, I soon discovered, lay in people's beliefs about why they had failed. In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. Dweck points out that a group of elementary and middle school children who displayed helpless behavior in school that a lack of effort (rather than lack of ability) led to their mistakes on math problems, the kids learned to keep trying when the problems got tough. They also solved many of the problems even in the face of difficulty. Another group of helpless children who were simply rewarded for their success on easy problems did not improve their ability to solve hard math problems. These experiments were an early indication that a focus on effort can help resolve helplessness and engender success.
Subsequent studies revealed that the most persistent students do not ruminate about their own failure much at all but instead think of mistakes as problems to be solved. An example was a student who pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips and said, "I love a challenge!" The other, also confronting the hard problems, looked up at the experimenter and approvingly declared, "I was hoping this would be informative!" Predictably, the students with this attitude outperformed their cohorts in these studies.
Two Views of Intelligence
Dweck says, “Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners-helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different "theories" of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that's that. I call this a "fixed mind-set." Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so.
The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.”
A belief in fixed intelligence also makes people less willing to admit to errors or to confront and remedy their deficiencies in school, at work and in their social relationships. In a study published in 1999 of 168 freshmen entering the University of Hong Kong, where all instruction and coursework are in English, three Hong Kong colleagues and I found that students with a growth mind-set who scored poorly on their English proficiency exam were far more inclined to take a remedial English course than were low-scoring students with a fixed mind-set. The students with a stagnant view of intelligence were presumably unwilling to admit to their deficit and thus passed up the opportunity to correct it.
A fixed mind-set can similarly hamper communication and progress in the workplace by leading managers and employees to discourage or ignore constructive criticism and advice.
Mind-set can affect the quality and longevity of personal relationships as well, through people's willingness-or unwillingness-to deal with difficulties. Those with a fixed mind-set are less likely than those with a growth mind-set to broach problems in their relationships and to try to solve them…After all, if you think that human personality traits are more or less fixed, relationship repair seems largely futile. Individuals who believe people can change and grow, however, are more confident that confronting concerns in their relationships will lead to resolutions.
So how do we transmit a growth mind-set to our children? One way is by telling stories about achievements that result from hard work. For instance, talking about math geniuses who were more or less born that way puts students in a fixed mind-set, but descriptions of great mathematicians who fell in love with math and developed amazing skills engenders a growth mind-set, our studies have shown. People also communicate mind-sets through
praise. Although many, if not most, parents believe that they should build up a child by telling him or her how brilliant and talented he or she is, our research suggests that this is misguided.
We found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed mind-set more often than did pats on the back for effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for example, shied away from a challenging assignment-they wanted an easy one instead far more often than the kids applauded for their effort. (Most of those lauded for their hard work wanted the difficult problem set from which they would learn.)
Making Up Your Mind-set
In addition to encouraging a growth mind-set through praise for effort, parents and teachers can help children by providing explicit instruction regarding the mind as a learning machine. Blackwell, Trzesniewski and I recently designed an eight-session workshop for 91 students whose math grades were declining in their first year of junior high. Forty-eight of the students received instruction in study skills only, whereas the others attended a combination of study skills sessions and classes in which they learned about the growth mind-set and how to apply it to schoolwork.
In the growth mind-set classes, students read and discussed an article entitled "You Can Grow Your Brain." They were taught that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use and that learning prompts neurons in the brain to grow new connections. From such instruction, many students began to see themselves as agents of their own brain development. Students who had been disruptive or bored sat still and took note. One particularly unruly boy looked up during the discussion and said, "You mean I don't have to be dumb?"
Dweck says, “We have now encapsulated such instruction in an interactive computer program called "Brain-ology," which should be more widely available by mid-2008. Its six modules teach students about the brain-what it does and how to make it work better. In a virtual brain lab, users can click on brain regions to determine their functions or on nerve endings to see how connections form when people learn. Users can also advise virtual students with problems as a way of practicing how to handle schoolwork difficulties; additionally, users keep an online journal of their study practices.”