Praise Such as ​​'You're So Smart​' Doesn't Tell Kids What They Need to Do Next Time

February 1, 2019

 

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed. Students with a growth mindset understand they can get smarter through hard work, the use of effective strategies, and help from others when needed. It is contrasted with a fixed mindset: the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that is set in stone at birth.

In the 1998 research work published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller argued that praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance.

They conducted six separate studies, the results of which demonstrated that praise for intelligence had more negative consequences for students' achievement motivation than praise for effort. Fifth graders praised for intelligence were found to care more about performance goals relative to learning goals than children praised for effort. After failure, they also displayed less task persistence, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance than children praised for effort. Finally, children praised for intelligence described it as a fixed trait more than children praised for hard work, who believed it to be subject to improvement.

The summary of the findings:

* Children who were praised for their intelligence were more likely to choose future tasks that they thought would make them look smart. Children who had been praised for their effort tended to choose tasks that would help them learn new things.
* Children praised for their intelligence said they enjoyed the task less when compared to the children who had been praised for their effort.
* Children praised for their intelligence were less likely to persist on tasks than the children who had been praised for their effort.
* Children who had been praised for their intelligence performed worse in future tasks. The children who had been praised for their effort performed better in future tasks.
* The majority (86%) of children praised for their intelligence asked for information about how their peers did on the same task. Only 23% of children who had been praised for effort asked for this type of feedback – most of them asked for feedback about how they could do better.
* A significant proportion (38%) of children praised for their ability lied about the number of problems they solved in the task. Only 13% of the children praised for effort did the same.

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