Feb. 14, 2007
When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher told my mother that my grades would improve if I only applied myself to my schoolwork. Oh no, hes applying himself, mom would tell my exasperated teacher. Hes just really that dumb.
Mom believed that effort was more important than intelligence. And as Po Bronson writes in New York magazine, she might be right:
When parents praise their childrens intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think its important to tell their kids that theyre smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.
But a growing body of researchand a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school systemstrongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of smart does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.
According to the article, psychologist Carol Dweck says that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids reasoning goes; I dont need to put out effort.