Sunday, May 22, 2022

Psychology of Success: Praising for “Effort” vs. “Ability”

I've heard from many parents that this particular set a research hasinfluence the way they parent their children. I've also heard from teachers that thisresearch has changed the way they engage with their students. In fact, many schools–elementary schoolsand middle schools– have started adopting this research andimplementing it into their general curriculae to get a better outcome for their ownstudents. So if you are any of those things–aparent or teacher…someone who cares for .

Another person– or anyone who's interested inmotivating others to increase their own performance, this research will be really interesting. And even if not, it's super interesting. What we'll look at here is the idea thatpraising someone for working hard is better than praising them for theirability. Rather than give people positivefeedback about how good they are at something, it's better to give them feedback thatthey've done a lot of work to get to .

Where they've gotten. So imagine you have a kid and the kid does really well on a schoolassignment, and you're this kid's parent. If the kidcomes home, shows you how great he did at his school assignment, you could say: “Wow, you're so smart!” That would be onething. And a lot of people would think to do that–that this would raise self-esteem, increase confidence… You want toreinforce a sense of competence in a young child. To say “Wow, you're sosmart. Great job!” .

But you could also instead say: “Wow! You work so hard! Nice job.” It seems similar. It's another way of giving positive feedback, but does it do anything different than saying “you're so smart”? And that's what we'll talk about in thisresearch here. So this is one study out of many in this– even one paper–but across a lot ofdifferent articles in the science about intelligence versus effort praise. The participants were 88 actualfifth-graders .

Who were participating one at a time inthis experiment and what they initially did when theyengaged in this activity was complete a set of intelligencetest questions… Basically just questions that measuregeneral intelligence that are a little tricky, or about pattern recognition–thesekinds of things. So everyone in this study–all of these fifth graders–startout by taking a set of questions and then they bring that response sheet to the experimenter, in which case theyreceive some feedback on their performance .

From the percent running this study. Andthe person starts out by saying “Wow! You did very well on theseproblems. You got X number of them right. That's a reallyhigh score.” In general, scores were high. If the score wasn't so high, they boostedit up a little bit just so that everyone got this positive feedback from theget-go. But the key difference was whether theyjust left the feedback at that, saying, “Wow, that's a really high score”or, for a third of the fifth graders in thisstudy, the experimenter said additionally, “Youmust be smart at these problems” .

And pointed out the fifth-graders'intelligence– the fifth-graders' natural ability to do wellon those problems. Or…for the final third of the fifthgraders–again each of them chosen randomly to receive any numberany of these kinds of feedback– they were told: “You must have worked hard at these problems” in addition to saying that it's a reallyhigh score. So that's all that's different. That's the only difference. Some kids just see theygot a high score, some kids see they got a high score andare told that they must be really smart, and the final set of kids are toldthey got a high score .

And they must've worked really hard onthose problems and get praise for them. That's all that's different. And so after that, they get to choosewhich problems they want to do in the second part of the study, and they're given a few differentoptions, and some of the options are problems that are really easy that they'll be able to do well–theyknow this…they know that they're going to be easy so that they can do well andcontinue to look smart… or they can choose problems that they'lllearn a lot from .

Even if it doesn't make them look sosmart. Okay? So they get to choose what they want to do in the next part of thestudy. Do they want to choose to do easy ones orchoose to do difficult ones that'll learn from? Well here's what happens. When theydidn't get any additional feedback–when they're just told what their score was– a little more than 30 percent of thepeople end up choosing the easy questions. Okay, so higher numbers on this graphmean they're more likely to choose the .

Easy questions instead of the difficultquestions. …lower numbers meaning that they choose thedifficult ones. But the kids who got that feedback plus praise for how smart they were atthe problems were way more likely to choose easyquestions for the next part of the experiment. Morethan half of those kids said “Give me the easy ones that I can knock outthe park. I don't care about these tricky ones.” But when they'd been praisedfor their hard work rather than their intelligence, that ratewas lower. These are the kids who were mostmotivated to pick hard questions that .

They could learn from even if they know that it's not gonnamake them look like the smartest person. So they've been reinforced for theirhard work. Now they want to do harder problems so that they canactually get better at doing these problems. That's prettypowerful all by itself. So in the next step of the study they get another set of problems regardless ofwhat it is that they said they wanted. It was a case of difficult problems. Sothey're all doing now a second set of problems, .

And they're really hard. And in fact,they're told: “Hey, listen. You did way worse on theseproblems. You did not do as well as you did before.” So now everyone feels as though they didworse than they did on the first set of problems, and the question is: how do they react to this little setback, depending on the feedback they gotoriginally? Depending on the kind of praise they got in the first set. Well here's what one of the questions was: “How much do you want to take theseproblems home to work on?” You might want to get better. If you wantto get better, you'll persist more… .

How much would you want to work on theseproblems even more at home? No feedback condition: people set the barat that rate… but for kids who got praise for theirintelligence, they just don't care about taking themhome. They're like, “Ah, screw it.” “I got these problems wrong…whatever. Thisis horrible.” “I don't want to improve upon my score.”But in the third condition here when they were initially reinforced fortheir hard work–just praised for hard work now they really wanted to do better onthese difficult problems. Okay, compared to those who were just in it now to look smart. .

Then they do one more final set ofproblems to see, “okay let's put the bar backwhere it was: similar difficulty as the first set of problems… Did that little setback to thatchallenge in the meantime make people less motivated to do thenext set of problems? In the “no feedback” condition, peopleended up doing a few more problems correct in the final set than the first set. They've had more practice, you know, they're getting a little betterat it. Interestingly, if people have been .

Praised for their intelligence they end up doing worse at the end ofthe study than they did at the beginning becausenow they're disengaged, they didn't do well on the second set… all of their self-confidence wasriding on their ability to look smart, and they ended up failing themselveson the difficult problems, and now they're just not even trying onthe last set of problems. However, for those with effort praise–those who were congratulated for their hard work–endedup .

Solving way more of the problemscorrect at the end even though they faced a setback in the middle. Okay, so they weremotivated to keep trying and keep learning. Again, the only differencebeing the kind of praise they received. Then atthe end of the study they got to choose between two things they could read. They were given two different folderswith information in it, and they said, “Listen, you can choose to read one ofthese two things.” One of the folders contained new andinteresting strategies .

For solving the problems in the test. The other folder had the average scores ofother students on those problems. And the idea behindthis is that if a student is motivated to actuallyimprove and learn, then they would want to choose the firstfolder and figure out new strategies forsolving the problems. But if a student is only concerned with how good he or shelooks and how smart he or she looks, they're gonna want to compare theirscore to others to make sure that they look smart…to make sure that they're comingacross as intelligent. .

So the question is: which of these arepeople gonna choose? On the right, …excuse me, on the left x–theY-axis, this is the proportion of people choosing the “average scores” folder, so higher numbers meanthey're more likely to choose that — folder. The lower numbers meaningthey choose the “strategies” folder. When they got no feedback, little morethan half were more interested in looking at theaverage scores of other students, but when they were praised forintelligence–when that became the thing that was important to them– .

They were way more interested in seeinghow other people did. Now almost 90 percent of those kidswanted to see how they stacked up against their peers, whereas the students who had beenpraised for their effort and hard work just didn't care about how other kidswere doing on those tests. They cared way more about learning toimprove upon their score. Again, more evidence showingthe power of praising hard work in terms of actually motivating a kidto learn more and improve on an ability. Okay–finalthing! .

There's a lot in this study. I just thinkit's all important, so let's go with it. The final thing that they did in thestudy is they asked the students to then write a description of the problems for children in another state who weregonna take similar intelligence tests AND indicate how many problems they answered correctly. So at the end ofa study like this, a student who had done all these problems is gonna write a brief description ofwhat they were like and report how many they got right. They were told–they gave– .

They got direct evidence or directfeedback about how many questions they ended up getting correct, and they were asked to reportthat number. And what they were looking for is: aresome of the kids going to report a number that was better than they actually did? Who's gonna lie about their score to a totally anonymous stranger? Might itdepend on what's important to them based on the praise they received. Sothis is the percentage of people who inflated their score .

In these essays. When they didn't get anykind of extra feedback other than their score, it didn't change much at all about theirreport such that you know, people will be people…aboutfifteen percent inflate their scored a little bit inthis essay. But the kids who had been praised for how smart they were, and not for how hard they worked, wereway more likely to change their score onthis essay. They care, again, more about looking smart. Right? That's become the thing that theywere praised for. Now that's what they .

Care about more than really doing well. And those inthe effort praise condition…again, people will be people. A few people misrepresent their score, but those kidsaren't motivated to tell others that they did reallygreat even if they actually did. Okay? It's really now about effort, so all of this together shows us thatpraising an ability, versus praising hard work, focuses peoplemore on their inherent abilities. That becomes what's important. And what we've seen is that then when .

Those people faced challenges, they view them as failures. Right? If I'm focused on my ability…if I fail to liveup to my own expectations, I see myself as a failure. But if my goal is to work hard and develop myskills, now a challenge is a chance to learn andimprove and grow and develop. We also saw thatpeople then become motivated to look smart when what's important is their inherentability and doing well become secondary .

To just looking good. So I know this has been a little bitlonger than many of the other ones, but the main point here is that praisingsomeone for working hard is better than praising them for their ability, and this is a really powerful and verysimple change the you can make. And like I said, people in educationhave actually been implementing this and seeing really, really profoundresults in terms of student motivation,engagement, and performance.


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