A belief in flexible intelligence

Photo by Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography / D Sharon Pruitt. Click for sourceThe Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent piece about psychologist Carol Dweck’s work which has highlighted how what you believe about intelligence has an effect on how you perform.

Dwecks’ work has garnered a great deal of attention and her main findings have suggested that children praised for their ‘hard work’ do significantly better when challenged with difficult problem that those who are told that they are ‘intelligent’.

The Chronicle article is a fantastic update to some of the more congratulatory pieces that have appeared in the press as it covers some of the work from other research groups that didn’t find the effect or has only found it under limited circumstances.

The studies wondered whether students’ beliefs about intelligence (“entity” [fixed] versus “incremental,” [flexible] in Dweck’s terms) would affect how long they practiced before taking the test, whether they chose to listen to distracting music while practicing, and how they would explain their low scores after taking the test.

The answer turned out to be: It depends. The Michigan studies divided the incremental theorists (that is, the students who implicitly believed that intelligence is malleable) into two groups: Those whose sense of self-worth was tied to academic performance and those who didn’t care so much about school. The latter group‚Äîthose whose egos were not deeply invested in schoolwork‚Äîbehaved as Dweck would have predicted. But among students whose self-worth was tied to academic performance, incremental theorists behaved similarly to students with “fixed” beliefs about intelligence. They avoided practicing, and they “self-handicapped.”

Link to Chronicle piece on Dwecks’ work.

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