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Nutrimentia
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Registered: Sep 2000
Location: The Bottom of the Toyem Pole
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The death of self esteem

Turns out that general feel-good praise isn't all its cracked up to be.

This article is just...wow. It's absolutely outstanding and every parent and educator should read it.

It talks about the effects of praising children on their general abilities versus their efforts. Kids who are praised for being "smart" tend to think that they are successful because of what they are, not what they do. As a result, they tend to avoid things that are difficult or that give impressions that they are working beyond their ability. The article has several examples of actual experiments (not just anecdotes) about this.

quote:
For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.


Why did this happen? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

In a subsequent round, none of the fifth-graders had a choice. The test was difficult, designed for kids two years ahead of their grade level. Predictably, everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test. “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles,” Dweck recalled. “Many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’?” Not so for those praised for their smarts. They assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”

Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.

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 the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.

New York University professor of psychiatry Judith Brook explains that the issue for parents is one of credibility. “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing—some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.

Scholars from Reed College and Stanford reviewed over 150 praise studies. Their meta-analysis determined that praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy. The scholars found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students’ “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”

Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.

In one, students are given two puzzle tests. Between the first and the second, they are offered a choice between learning a new puzzle strategy for the second test or finding out how they did compared with other students on the first test: They have only enough time to do one or the other. Students praised for intelligence choose to find out their class rank, rather than use the time to prepare.

In another, students get a do-it-yourself report card and are told these forms will be mailed to students at another school—they’ll never meet these students and don’t know their names. Of the kids praised for their intelligence, 40 percent lie, inflating their scores. Of the kids praised for effort, few lie.

When students transition into junior high, some who’d done well in elementary school inevitably struggle in the larger and more demanding environment. Those who equated their earlier success with their innate ability surmise they’ve been dumb all along. Their grades never recover because the likely key to their recovery—increasing effort—they view as just further proof of their failure. In interviews many confess they would “seriously consider cheating.”

Students turn to cheating because they haven’t developed a strategy for handling failure. The problem is compounded when a parent ignores a child’s failures and insists he’ll do better next time. Michigan scholar Jennifer Crocker studies this exact scenario and explains that the child may come to believe failure is something so terrible, the family can’t acknowledge its existence. A child deprived of the opportunity to discuss mistakes can’t learn from them.






As for Self-Esteem, here's what one of the biggest dogs in the fight found:

quote:
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”




Thinking about the effect that such praise has on how kids' perceive themselves and how hard they work, then considering changes in the education (curricululum structured around enhancing self-esteem), parenting (less engaged), and media environments (plenty of distractions from challenges), I'm not at all surprised that the state of education in the US is a wreck. Thankfully, it appears as though this is pretty easy to counter.

Observe:

quote:
No such qualms exist for teachers at the Life Sciences Secondary School in East Harlem, because they’ve seen Dweck’s theories applied to their junior-high students. Last week, Dweck and her protégée, Lisa Blackwell, published a report in the academic journal Child Development about the effect of a semester-long intervention conducted to improve students’ math scores.

Life Sciences is a health-science magnet school with high aspirations but 700 students whose main attributes are being predominantly minority and low achieving. Blackwell split her kids into two groups for an eight-session workshop. The control group was taught study skills, and the others got study skills and a special module on how intelligence is not innate. These students took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows new neurons when challenged. They saw slides of the brain and acted out skits. “Even as I was teaching these ideas,” Blackwell noted, “I would hear the students joking, calling one another ‘dummy’ or ‘stupid.’?” After the module was concluded, Blackwell tracked her students’ grades to see if it had any effect.


It didn’t take long. The teachers—who hadn’t known which students had been assigned to which workshop—could pick out the students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed. They improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students’ longtime trend of decreasing math grades.

The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.

“These are very persuasive findings,” says Columbia’s Dr. Geraldine Downey, a specialist in children’s sensitivity to rejection. “They show how you can take a specific theory and develop a curriculum that works.” Downey’s comment is typical of what other scholars in the field are saying. Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard social psychologist who is an expert in stereotyping, told me, “Carol Dweck is a flat-out genius. I hope the work is taken seriously. It scares people when they see these results.”


Sorry for the extended quotes. You really should just go read the article, as it is a doozy.

So yeah, praise your kids, but praise them for what they do, not so much what they are. It isn't so important that they feel good about themselves as much as it is they feel good about what they can be.

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Old Post 02-13-2007 09:22 AM
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SimpleSimon
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Interesting article. Just proves the truth of the old saying, "A little praise goes a long ways. A little effort goes even further."

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Old Post 02-13-2007 01:31 PM
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Vegas
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It comes back down to rewarding someone for a job well done, not for their abilities. If you treat someone like they are the greatest thing ever, they will believe it and refuse to do anything other than exactly what they want to do. If you reward someone for a good performance, that person is going to want to do well.

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Old Post 02-13-2007 10:29 PM
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Roshigoth
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quote:
“Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing—some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.


So true. My high school was obsessed with awards ceremonies. Most of the awards given were complete jokes, and I would generally walk away from each with about 5-6 awards that meant nothing to me. I personally hated going to the awards ceremonies, but my dad simply loved them. He's got a wall full of awards in our living room, and I find it rather embarrassing, especially when you read what they're for.

Oh, and I'm a total slacker and rarely apply myself. Any time I'm forced to actually put in effort, I find that I regret getting myself into whatever it is that's causing the problem.

Dunno whether empty praise has anything to do with that. But it certainly didn't help.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 04:29 PM
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fubar
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I hate myself for being very much like Rosh.

This brings me up to about 497 reasons now.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 04:41 PM
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Rubiconz
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I dunno... my mother was a whiz at praising much of what I did and while I recognized early on it wasn't true, I became an over-achiever. I used to wish I could be satisfied with average grades during college years. It would have been more fun.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 05:06 PM
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fubar
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You became an over-achiever and landed here. You must have come from a very long line of failure.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 05:08 PM
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CHiPsJr
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Excellent stuf, Nute. Very much in line with both the research I've read and with my own personal experiences.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 05:17 PM
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Hawley Griffin
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Re: The death of self esteem

quote:
Originally posted by Nutrimentia


So yeah, praise your kids, but praise them for what they do, not so much what they are. It isn't so important that they feel good about themselves as much as it is they feel good about what they can be.



the fact that this needs to be said to anyone who has rearing a child. is disturbing to say the least.

i can't wait for some ground breaking article reminding you faggots that breathing in and then breathing out is important

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Old Post 02-14-2007 05:51 PM
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Mordecai
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You're just mean to compensate for your own lack of self-esteem.

SHIT! That's out the window too.

-m

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Old Post 02-14-2007 06:07 PM
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Hawley Griffin
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im mean to people on the internet because i can. not because i need to

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Old Post 02-14-2007 07:15 PM
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morgana
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very interesting read. they're missing some key ingredients here though. in my experience, it's not just empty praise that handicaps these kids, it's their parents who allow them to settle for average or dismiss below average study behavior. i see it all the time at my daughter's school- parents will look at the bad grade and say "don't worry honey, you'll do better next time". how? are you gonna make them go home and study that subject tonight? are you going to help them study for the next one? no and no. somehow, magically, they expect that their positive reinforcement is going to make things all better.

i'm printing this out for my kid to read right now...

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Old Post 02-14-2007 07:28 PM
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fubar
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quote:
Originally posted by morgana
i'm printing this out for my kid to read right now...



Is she going to read it straight away, or are you going to make her watch you rape a hobo first?

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Old Post 02-14-2007 07:53 PM
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Rubiconz
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quote:
Originally posted by fubar
You became an over-achiever and landed here. You must have come from a very long line of failure.


I appreciate your willingness to be my mentor during those years. I followed all your suggestions, my brother.

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Old Post 02-14-2007 11:17 PM
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Nutrimentia
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Re: Re: The death of self esteem

quote:
Originally posted by Hawley Griffin
the fact that this needs to be said to anyone who has rearing a child. is disturbing to say the least.

i can't wait for some ground breaking article reminding you faggots that breathing in and then breathing out is important



At least we don't judge parents by the quality of the punctuation of their children.

You're right though, it IS surprising that so much one would think is common sense is not common at all. I don't know if people are just too willing to listen to others (i.e. no self-confidence in their instincts) and thus follow whatever trend is out there or if it is a matter of believing that you can raise a child with words of encouragement and a materialistic expression of love. If you treat kids as intelligent humans, they'll respond in kind. If you treat them as idiots, they'll respond in kind. Pay attention to you kids, spend time with them, teach them about the world and explain what is going on. Have a fair and consistent system of discipline and adhere to it. Don't make threats that you can't or won't follow through on. Explain to them why they are in trouble or why they failed or how they can avoid the problems they are having. That works.

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Old Post 02-15-2007 06:15 AM
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Rubiconz
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Re: Re: Re: The death of self esteem

quote:
Originally posted by Nutrimentia
...If you treat kids as intelligent humans, they'll respond in kind. If you treat them as idiots, they'll respond in kind. Pay attention to you kids, spend time with them, teach them about the world and explain what is going on. Have a fair and consistent system of discipline and adhere to it. Don't make threats that you can't or won't follow through on. Explain to them why they are in trouble or why they failed or how they can avoid the problems they are having. That works.


If only your words could be inserted into the brains of mothers in grocery stores who yell empty threats as their children behave as if they have never been in public.

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Old Post 02-15-2007 06:40 AM
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fubar
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quote:
Originally posted by Rubiconz
I appreciate your willingness to be my mentor during those years. I followed all your suggestions, my brother.


I am nothing if not a beacon of hope.

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Old Post 02-15-2007 03:33 PM
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Rubiconz
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My cup runneth over....

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Old Post 02-15-2007 04:08 PM
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fubar
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quote:
Originally posted by Rubiconz
My cup runneth over....


Apparently, LF is getting a new one.

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Old Post 02-15-2007 04:14 PM
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Rubiconz
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quote:
Originally posted by fubar
Apparently, LF is getting a new one.


Now now, fubie... ya gotta pay attention if yer trailing me. I'm quite fond of ya, ya know... so, please don't stop.

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fubar
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you smell of cherry's

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Coincidence
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...

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Old Post 02-15-2007 09:26 PM
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Hawley Griffin
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quote:
Originally posted by Coincidence
...


THAT WAS AN AWESOME POST, KEEP IT UP AND I WILL GIVE YOU A PERNT!!!!

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Coincidence
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It's a hint.

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Old Post 02-15-2007 09:56 PM
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Rubiconz
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quote:
Originally posted by fubar
you smell of cherry's


Take deep breaths, fubie-pie, it's healthy. I treat others as they treat me. Jot it down if need be.

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