Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The importance of believing in yourself

with 4 comments

You can get better, if you believe you can:

Research on how junior high school students’ beliefs about intelligence affect their math grades found that those who believed that intelligence can be developed performed better than those who believed intelligence is fixed.

The findings come from two studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Stanford University, and are published in the January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

One study looked at 373 12-year-olds over two years of junior high school. Although all students began the study with equivalent achievement levels in math, students who believed that their intelligence could be developed outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed. Furthermore, the researchers found, the gap between these two groups widened over the two-year period.

Researchers concluded that the difference between the two sets of students stems from the fact that students who believed their intelligence could be developed placed a higher premium on learning, believed more in the power of effort, and had more constructive reactions to setbacks in school.

A second study looked at 91 12-year-olds in two groups, both of whom had shown declines in their math grades. One group was taught the expandable theory of intelligence as part of an eight-session workshop on study skills. Another group participated in the same workshop, but did not receive information on the expandable intelligence qualities of the brain. The students who learned about the intelligence theory reversed their decline and showed significantly higher math grades than their peers in the other group, whose grades continued to decline.

“These findings highlight the importance of students’ beliefs for their academic progress,” said Carol Dweck, one of the researchers and professor of psychology at Stanford University. “They also show how these beliefs can be changed to maximize students’ motivation and achievement.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2007 at 11:59 am

4 Responses

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  1. I don’t believe one can be come more intelligent, but I do believe one can become more educated. I think it’s just a question of how they’re using the term intelligence.



    7 February 2007 at 12:13 pm

  2. I think they’re using it in the usual way: the score on a particular type of test. But what is going on here is not whether intelligence can be improved or not, but what effect the belief that it can be improved has on performance.



    7 February 2007 at 12:18 pm

  3. Isaac Asimov on intelligence:

    What is intelligence, anyway? When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me. (It didn’t mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP – kitchen police – as my highest duty.)

    All my life I’ve been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I’m highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too. Actually, though, don’t such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests – people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

    For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles – and he always fixed my car.

    Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test. Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I’d prove myself a moron, and I’d be a moron, too. In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly. My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

    Consider my auto-repair man, again. He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me. One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: “Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with the other hand. The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?”

    Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my first two fingers. Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, “Why, you dumb jerk, He used his voice and asked for them.” Then he said smugly, “I’ve been trying that on all my customers today.” “Did you catch many?” I asked. “Quite a few,” he said, “but I knew for sure I’d catch you.” “Why is that?” I asked. “Because you’re so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn’t be very smart.”

    And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.



    7 February 2007 at 2:53 pm

  4. What they’re talking about is a self-fulfilling prophecy — if you believe something (like the ability to expand your intelligence), it’s more likely to happen. My psych profs are always talking about it. Sort-of related is the observer-expectancy effect: you are more likely to see what you expect to see because you are on the look-out for it and are likely to (unconsciously) cause it to happen. The only example I can think of right now is pretty cliche: if you take a bunch of kids of equal intelligence and randomly split them in 2 groups, then tell the teacher that one group is full of “brighter” kids and the other is full of “not-so-smart” kids, after a while the kids in the “brighter” group will outperform the “not-to-bright” kids. This is not due to any intelligence differences between the two groups to start with, but simply due to the teacher’s differential treatment of the 2 groups based on what he/she believes. So it’s not just what you believe about yourself, but what others believe too.

    They have all kinds of different IQ tests writen for different socio-economic status, culture, etc, because of the very phenomenon Isaac Asimov is talking about.


    The Niece

    7 February 2007 at 10:26 pm

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