Is it Good When Your Brain Hurts?

The work on naive theories of intelligence (see: Carol Dweck and her academia-tree) demonstrates how the belief that intelligence is malleable leads to improvements in student motivation, persistence, and grades.  A recent study by David Miele, Brigid Finn, and Dan Molden helps explain the mechanism through which this happens.  They investigated how beliefs about intelligence affect whether people use the easily learned = easily remembered (ELER) heuristic to evaluate their learning:

We conducted two experiments in which participants studied word lists and then predicted their future recall of those items. Results revealed that subjects who viewed intelligence as fixed, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating that they had reached the limits of their ability, used the ELER heuristic to make judgments of learning. However, subjects who viewed intelligence as malleable, and who tended to interpret effortful encoding as indicating greater engagement in learning, did not use the ELER heuristic and at times predicted greater memory for items that they found more effortful to learn.

Essentially, people who viewed intelligence as fixed believed that increased effort was a signal learning had stopped. On the other hand, those who viewed intelligence as malleable believed that increased effort signaled greater learning was taking place. The finding helps shed some light on why students with incremental theories of intelligence are more likely to persist in the face of difficulty.

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