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STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Research

It's important to believe hard work matters more than intelligence, because it could make it true

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Michigan State University has a new study out about "mindset messages," or how what we believe can change how well we can do.

These studies, as my colleague Dustin Dwyer will be happy to tell you, are something State of Opportunity has looked into in the past. In fact, this newest study is admittedly built on past work by Carol Dweck (the researchers thank her in their acknowledgments). 

Dweck's work showed young kids would continue to work hard at difficult tasks if they were consistently hit with "you worked really hard," instead of "you're so smart" messages. The psychology behind that finding is important for understanding which kids are likely to do well, despite adversity. In other words, what "grit" has to do with success.   

But this newest study does break some new ground in two interesting ways. These researchers actually looked at what these messages do to the brains of the people who hear them.

In this study, people were given one of two messages – the first, that hard work could change intelligence. The gist of the second message was that intelligence is, genetically, written in stone.

The brains of the people who were told hard work mattered recovered from mistakes more quickly. What that allowed those people to do was learn more from their mistakes, and do better on the next task they were asked to complete.

A deeper understanding of how messages can build resilience can help teachers, parents and supportive adults figure out how to talk to kids. But, what I find interesting about this study is that it's not just destined to add to an ever-growing mountain of parenting advice. 

The study by Michigan State was not conducted on young kids, but on undergraduate students who, neurologically speaking, are close to my own age. So it may be time for many of us to examine what we think about our own ability and how much "hard work" has to do with it.

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