An interesting article in New York magazine suggests that persistently telling kids that they’re smart — even when they clearly are — could actually have a negative effect on their schoolwork and intellectual growth. Citing the studies of psychologist Carol Dweck, the article explains how students who were told they “must have worked hard” to do well on a test scored better on subsequent tests that students who were told their success was due to their being “smart”
Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “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.”
In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered 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 don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized — it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.