My Kids are Hard Working, Not Smart

brain… or at least that’s what we tell them. I originally heard about this on Marginal Revolution, an economics website (link here), and it sounded like a good idea. It cropped up again in the book, How We Decide (my review here, Amazon link here). The book had the original research study. The academic paper is on the internet behind a paywall, but it has been actively written about (here, by the original researcher in Scientific American).

Paraphrasing, a group of fifth graders are given a task to complete. They are divided into three groups. One group is told at the completion that they are very smart. Another group is told that they must have worked hard. A third group is a control, and not told anything.

On subsequent tests, the hard working group improved substantially. The smart group regressed, performing worse than before. And the difference was substantial.

It all makes a great deal of sense. If one feels that your native intelligence is the gauge by which you can complete tasks, then anything you cannot complete naturally means that you are (relatively) dumb. If you are hard working, on the other hand, then failing at an assignment means that you simply did not work enough and there is room to improve yourself. Someone who has been told they are smart, but fails, has no such recourse.

How We Decide went into delicious detail on this, remarking that the hard working group better reflects on how the brain learns. We all learn from our mistakes, and almost solely from our mistakes, so these should be emphasized.

One Response to “My Kids are Hard Working, Not Smart”

  1. crs says:

    I have seen consistent evidence for this over my years in the classroom. It has gone to the extreme of an 11th grade US History student who could honestly barely read and write yet he had tested as “gifted” and insisted that since he was “smart” he should get a good grade (regardless of his work being the implication).

    Floated the idea of Saturday afternoon ribs at our house by Andy. Calvin has a soccer game that won’t have us home until 4 but I think if we’re ready to toss the ribs in the oven (they take about two hours at low temp before going on the grill) we would be good. The following Saturday Isabella’s game goes until 3 so we’re in the same boat. Thoughts?

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