Back in Scary Smart, I told you about the scholarship program that paid my way through school. It was filled with kids just like me: Very smart, but not very motivated, students. (There were, as a fellow scholarship recipient points out, very smart and motivated students, too. I was just impressed with that the average level of motivation wasn’t very high.) A couple of weeks ago, I discovered “How Not to Talk to Your Kids” that helped me crystallize my ideas for why smart people end up as such slackers. This experiment provides a lot of insight:
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.
Kids (and many adults) want to be praised, so they tend to pick the outcome that they think will end in more praise with the least risk and work. When you go through school being praised for your intelligence, you soon learn that you don’t have to put out much effort to get that praise. Of course, there is the rogue teacher who won’t praise your obvious brilliance in answering a question and who expects you to actually work, but they tend to be the minority and, besides, a quick burst of energy will distract them. So you end up with a really intelligent person who isn’t very motivated to succeed. Mediocrity is better than failure. If you try for success, you might not get it. So you coast. My conclusion: I don’t dare tell my kids they’re smart. If they work hard, I’ll recognise that. Amaze me. Just being smart is so passé. This despite the conventional wisdom which is evidently “Always re-enforce how intelligent your child is! Make sure they have confidence!” What a load of crap! As yet another example of how conventional wisdom is wrong, you should know that expensive running shoes (and, indeed, shoes in general) are ruining your feet and injuring your body:
In 1989, Dr. B. Marti published a paper which still makes the throats of footwear executives go dry. He studied 5,038 runners who participated in a 16km race and had them fill out an extensive questionnaire about their running in the year preceding the race. Here’s what he found: The incidence of injuries in runners using shoes costing more than $95 was more that twice as great as in runners using shoes costing less than $40. (Note that this result includes correction for other influencing factors such as training mileage and history of previous injury.) In other words, the fancier (high-tech, advanced) the shoe, the more dangerous it is!
Our feet are supposed to feel the ground so that our body can respond appropriately. Barefoot runners are careful runners and, as a result, less likely to injure themselves. I recall a study that showed children in martial arts classes that used padding were actually injured more than than children in classes that didn’t use padding. (If you can find a reference, let me know!) We’re so frightened of pain or injury that we take steps to protect ourselves from injury without considering that the protection may harm us more than the pain. I suspect we’re doing the same thing with our love-affair with medication. By numbing ourselves to all pain, we inhibit our potential. Pain and suffering are a part of life. Enjoy it!