Beliefs about intelligence affect mental performance

I’ve just found a fascinating five minute NPR radio report on work by psychologist Carol Dweck that has found that if a child thinks that intelligence is something that can change throughout life, they do better in school.

Dweck has been doing some fascinating work on what affects children’s academic performance.

We’ve reported on some of her earlier work, including the fact that praising children for their intelligence actually makes them perform worse in certain situations, whereas praising them for their hard work encourages them to tackle adversity when it occurs.

This NPR radio slot covers some work she published with colleagues in a freely available paper looking at the fact that children who believe that intelligence is flexible seem to do better as they “tend to emphasize ‚Äòlearning goals‚Äô and rebound better from occasional failures”.

Dweck and her colleagues then tested the idea that if they taught children that intelligence could grow, their performance would improve. As predicted, it did.

It’s a really great example of carefully targeted cognitive science research. It’s a counter-intuitive finding that has direct practical application to improving children’s academic performance in both the long- and short-term.

It’s also a lovely example of a self-confirming belief. Children who believe intelligence is fixed are more likely to have fixed performance, whereas children who believe intelligence can grow are more likely to show performance growth.

The implications for the psychology of teachers are also interesting, because it would seem to be self-confirming for them as well. Teachers who believe that poorly performing children may have hidden potential might see them improve when they pass this on to the child.

Teachers who believe that poorly performing children are unlikely to change may actually limit a child’s performance if the child picks up on this and begins to believe the same.

So it might be worth testing whether teachers’ beliefs about intelligence affect their students’ performance as well.

Link to NPR on ‘Students’ View of Intelligence Can Help Grades’.
Link to paper ‘Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success?’.

One Comment

  1. Jon A
    Posted December 27, 2007 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    In education the effect of teacher expectations on student outcomes is referred to as the ‘Pygmalion Effect.’ I’m not sure how widely-researched it is, per se, but the hypothesis is out there.


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