A smart piece by Po Bronson in last week's New York magazine pulls together some great research about how to motivate kids to increase effort, take risks and get better at stuff.
The overall message of the article is that parents and teachers need to pay close attention to the type of praise they offer kids. We should praise kids for their effort -- not for their innate abilities. These conclusions come from years of solid research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and others (Blackwell, Dweck, et al, 2006), demonstrating the following.
* Praise for innate ability:
- discourages effort by creating a mindset that equates effort with inferiority ("Expending effort becomes stigmatized," writes Bronson. "It’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.")
- discourages risk-taking, encouraging kids to play it safe, to avoid things they don't feel "naturally" good at
- removes kids' sense of control over their own lives
- leads to worse study habits and lower grades
* Praise for effort:
- imbues kids with a greater sense of control over their lives
- leads to improved study habits and grades
“When we praise children for their intelligence," explains Dweck, "we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes . . . Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."
This research backs up some critical points about the development of talent and "giftedness":
- effort and motivation are crucial to success
- motivation *can* be nurtured
- while certain innate advantages may exist in individuals, calling attention to them is demonstrably unhelpful. Kids with *and* without these innate advantages benefit from developing a mindset that equates success with effort. Both groups are hurt by a mindset that equates success with innate ability.