Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Talent Code

I started reading The Talent Code a few weeks ago and got about halfway finished, but like many other things in my life lately, I got too busy/ tired/ distracted to finish. Yesterday I had extra day off from work and a rest day from training, so I set out on the second half. I'm now a couple of chapters from the finish, and while I'm not sure if the information can be used to change the athletic ability of a almost 30-year-old only child with both of her parents still and alive and living in a developed nation, it is all very fascinating. Here' a particular passage that I've been mulling over since yesterday:

"First, Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six-word sentence of praise. Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence ("You must be smart at this"), and half were praised for their effort ("You must have worked really hard").

The kids were tested a second time, but this time they were offered a choice between a harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who'd been praised for their effort chose the harder test. A majority of the kids who'd been praised for their intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? "When we praise children for their intelligence," Dweck wrote, "we tell them that's the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes."

The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids - the praised-for-effort group and the praised-for-intelligence group - responded very differently to the situation. "[The effort group] dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions, testing strategies," Dweck said. "They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren't smart."

The experiment then came full circle, returning to a test of the same difficulty as the initial test. The praised-for-effort group improved their initial score by 30 percent, while the praised-for-intelligence group's score declined by 20 percent. All because of six short words. Dweck was so surprised at the result that she reran the study five times. Each time the result was the same."

So I haven't quite decided what the "moral" of this story was, but it definitely struck a chord with me. The whole middle section of the book is about how chance events and small, often subconscious signals shape people's performance in sports, the arts, etc. much more than their genetic material. (The first and last parts have to do with practice styles and coaching.) In the end, I'm not sure if I like having my destiny determined by subconscious ideas that I don't even know that I have any better than having it determined by my genes, but it does make some good food for thought.

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