Friday, November 17, 2006

What You Believe Matters - Can You Change Your Brain?

We've recently been chatting with Dona Matthews and her class of gifted teachers at Hunter College (NY) about the issue of whether it's right to tell bright students that they're smart. In general, we think it is a good thing to appropriately encourage children about their particularly gifts or talents, but at the same time, how it's done should be individualized - as inappropriate high praise can also lead to troubles (unrealistic expectations, arrogance, etc.). The issue came up because of the Cornell research that found that the highest performing students the only group to underestimate (rather than overestimate their ability). This is particularly a problem in highly selective school environment in which the pool is already constricted.

Well, here's another piece of research that shows that what you believe about yourself or learning and intelligence does affect your brain's allocation of resources to attention and learning.

The paper is a bit technical (ERP's), but the bottom line is, you're the worst off if you believe intelligence is fixed (i.e. crystalized, not changeable), and then you discover you've made a mistake. The dark blue shows that these subjects are the most depleted by finding out about their errors - it's as if the brain's resources for attention and learning from mistakes just turns off.

If you believe intelligence is something that occurs with incremental effort, you're less overwhelmed by discovering your errors, your attentional pathways are poised to learn from the feedback, and voila! You become do become smarter.

So which brain are you choosing to have?

Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Learning That We're Wrong
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Teaching Optimism
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Generation 'Whatever': From Pessimism to Pragmatic Optimism

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  1. I imagine this is an aftereffect of the generally self-esteem conscious public school system. I would guess that in other countries, you may have universally low efficacy.

    As someone who believes that esteem and identity are rather worthless for determining what goes on in the brain, to be finding a durable negative correlation would be interesting. But again, I guess that there is actually just zero true correlation.

  2. Anonymous6:09 PM

    American optimism! I love it.
    Best wishes

  3. Anonymous8:01 AM

    since Anthony Robbins book about NLP I´m interested in that topic.
    And thats the way it is, your brain does what you tell it.
    Your realty is the product of your interpretation of your expierience.
    So you can motivate yourself and programmyour brain like you want.