Kevin Hogan

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There has been a plethora of research coming out of schools that deals with who gets better grades, in what situations, what contexts and so forth.

Here are a couple of fascinating examples of just how important beliefs are in achievement.

First, maybe the most interesting.

Power of ‘Stereotype Threat’

Women perform as much as 12 percent better on math problems when tested in a setting without men, according to a study of Brown University undergraduates led by a graduate student of psychology.

Specifically, women tested in single-sex groups scored a 70-percent accuracy rate on math exams; women tested in groups in which they were outnumbered by men scored a 58-percent accuracy rate, said lead author Michael Inzlicht, whose study appeared in the American Psychological Society’s journal, Psychological Science.

Who’s Really Better at Math?

Now here is where the power of belief might come in…and we don’t KNOW for sure, but it’s interesting. For decades men have far outperformed women in math at all levels. The question is, are men really better at math than women OR is there only a belief that men are better?!

Being outnumbered may cause females to suffer from “stereotype threat,” a situational phenomenon that occurs when targets of a stereotype, in this case the idea that women do not perform as well as men in math, are reminded of that stereotype, according to Inzlicht.

“The presence of men can interfere with women’s problem-solving performance because anxiety can distract someone from taking an exam,” said Inzlicht, whose co-author is Talia Ben-Zeev, assistant professor of psychology at Williams College.

The study included 127 female and 37 male undergraduates, tested in groups of three on standardized math and verbal exams. The gender balance of those three-person groups varied from three women to mixed groups to three men. Participants completed either math or verbal multiple-choice questions from the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) test guide, and were informed beforehand that their performance would be reported to the other group members.

On math exams, women’s accuracy decreased as the number of men in the group increased. Even when women were in the majority in the three-person group, they still underperformed in comparison to women in all-female settings achieving only a 64-percent accuracy rate compared to the 70-percent accuracy rate.

How Were Men Affected?

Different gender ratios never resulted in changes in male test performance; men consistently registered about 67-percent accuracy on math exams.

What About Subjects Other Than Math?

However, simply being in a classroom with men did not effect women’s overall intellectual performance, Inzlicht said. The performance differences were limited to situations in which women were tested on math, a subject that is traditionally stereotyped. Researchers did not find any gender difference in performance on verbal exams.

The research is not intended to determine whether or not females would benefit from single-sex education, but the data suggest that females may benefit from single-sex math classes, said Inzlicht. The findings also point out the danger of stereotypes, he said. The study results are limited because the research looked only at small groups in a very controlled setting.

Now, for my money, this is nothing short of astonishing. Magic in reverse. Create a meme so powerful and over time it actual pervades thoughts of an entire gender!

My guess is that women are probably very similar to men in potential capability but the beliefs they hold onto cause anxiety and reduction in performance.

Next up a different set of beliefs are tested for…

“I Think I Can…”

If people think they can get smarter, if you will, can they actually DO better in real life?

How Beliefs About Intelligence Affect Outcome

Research on how junior high school students’ beliefs about intelligence affect their math grades found that those who believed that intelligence can be developed performed better than those who believed intelligence is fixed. The findings come from two studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Stanford University, The Journal  of Child Development.

What Happens When Students Believe Intelligence is ‘Fixed’?

One study looked at 373 12-year-olds over two years of junior high school. Although all students began the study with equivalent achievement levels in math, students who believed that their intelligence could be developed outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed.

Furthermore, the researchers found, the gap between these two groups widened over the two-year period.

Researchers concluded that the difference between the two sets of students stems from the fact that students who believed their intelligence could be developed placed a higher premium on learning, believed more in the power of effort, and had more constructive reactions to setbacks in school.

What About Students Whose Performance Has Declined?

A second study looked at 91  12-year-olds in two groups, both of whom had shown declines in their math grades. One group was taught the expandable theory of intelligence as part of an eight-session workshop on study skills. Another group participated in the same workshop, but did not receive information on the expandable intelligence qualities of the brain.

The students who learned about the intelligence theory reversed their decline and showed significantly higher math grades than their peers in the other group, whose grades continued to decline.

“These findings highlight the importance of students’ beliefs for their academic progress,” said Carol Dweck, one of the researchers and professor of psychology at Stanford University. “They also show how these beliefs can be changed to maximize students’ motivation and achievement.”

By giving people a REASON to BELIEVE they can improve or do better…they often do…the reason doesn’t necessarily have to be correct…it has to be a REASON.

Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 78, Issue 1, Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention, by Blackwell, LS (Columbia University), and Trzesniewski, KH, and Dweck, CS (Stanford University). The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.



Learn How Your Beliefs May Be Keeping You From Achieving Your Dreams

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Learn more about wealth accumulation

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Author of The Psychology of Persuasion, Irresistible Attraction, and The Science of Influence, Dr. Kevin Hogan is trusted by organizations, both large and small, to help them help their people reach their personal peak performance and maximize influence in selling and marketing. Kevin is an internationally admired keynote speaker and corporate thought leader. In Coffee with Kevin Hogan, he shares his research, observations, and how you can apply them in your life – both in business and at home.

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