Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Grit More Important than Genes?

Interesting article in Psychology Today: The Winning Edge: We're primed to think that talent is the key to success. But what counts even more is a fusion of passion and perseverance. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all.

While I agree with most of the article (typos not withstanding), I have a problem with the following:

"Grit, most likely, can be taught, or at least encouraged. But one impediment to growing grit may be -- surprisingly -- the seemingly innocent act of parents praising a child's intelligence. In one fascinating series of studies, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues showed that children who were praised for their intelligence cared more about their grades than about learning during subsequent tasks. And after experiencing a failure, these children were less persistent than their peers who had been praised for their effort. "When you praise kids' intelligence and then they fail, they think they're not smart anymore, and they lose interest in their work," Dweck explains. "In contrast, kids praised for effort show no impairment and often are energized in the face of difficulty."

The article doesn't say whether the children studied had been consistently, i.e. since birth, praised for intelligence vs. effort. There have been numerous studies about the "Atta-Boy" culture in the public schools--saying "good job" to even the slightest amount of effort on the child's part in an effort to raise self-esteem--being not just absurd but harmful to their ability to work hard and persevere. Which makes me wonder if she's not just seeing the public school effect on gifted kids--kids who are smart but have been taught to value grades over learning because that is what is important in the classroom.

In my mind, though, there is no question that all the IQ points in the world are not going to make you successful unless you get up off the couch. Our local radio station runs an ad for the morning show with the following sound bite: "It's not fair. You sleep late, watch tv all day--the job offers ought to be rolling in!" But praising every tiny amount of effort vs. telling them they're smart is not going to give a child the gumption to put down the remote, really buckle in and change the world.

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