When Dweck was at Columbia, she started her research on the effects of feedback given to students. She sent four research assistants into NYC fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers removed one student at a time to administer a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles -
puzzles that were simple enough for all the students to complete easily. Once the students finished, the researchers told the students their scores and then followed with a single line of praise.
Randomly divided into two groups. One group of students was praised for their intelligence and were told "You must be smart at this." The other group was praised for their effort - "You must have worked really hard." Dweck and her researchers were looking at how sensitive children were to the type of praise delivered.
The students were then given a choice of test for the second round. They could either take a test that they were told was more difficult than the first - but one that the researchers assured
students the latter would learn a lot from simply by attempting the puzzles - or they could take an easy test similar to the one they had just completed. So, guess what happens? Of those students praised for their efforts, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles while the majority of those praised for their intelligence selected the easy test. Why?
Dweck reported that this happens "when we praise children for their intelligence. We tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes." The study went on for a few more rounds, but the conclusion reached was this - "Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable 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
failure." So, in other words, when a child who has been praised for "being smart" or being talented" eventually experiences failure, the reasoning follows that it must be the result of ability - more specifically, the lack thereof.
Dweck's research is telling us to praise effort. Self-esteem advocates may feel differently. Does it
matter if you attribute outcomes to ability or effort? What do you think? How do you feel about this?