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Stanford EE 190 - Study Notes

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ReadingRead this handout. Read the Build Awareness tab of my web site.Is there hope of reducing the risk?If my preliminary analysis is correct and the risk posed by nuclear weapons is thousands of times greater than living next to a nuclear power reactor, that leads to another key question: Is there any hope of reducing the risk thousands of times over, until it reaches an acceptable level? Are human beings capable of such monumental change?Prof. Carol Dweckʼs ResearchMany people dismiss reducing the risk posed by nuclear weapons as an impossible task and have told me: “You can’t change human nature!” Useful insights for overcoming this barrier to facing what must seem like an important, but unsolvable challenge can be gained from the research of Prof. Carol Dweck of Stanford’s Psychology Department.Dweck studies how different people respond when confronted with a challenge that exceeds their current abilities, and how different stimuli might affect their responses. She found that some people rise to the challenge even though that might mean failing, while others shy away, fearful of failure. Her research has shown that much of this difference can be attributed to people tending to have one of two mindsets. In one mindset, ability is fixed and immutable, something you are born with and cannot change. In the other, ability is more like a muscle that can be developed by exercise and hard work.Dweck has found that people who see ability as fixed and immutable have a strong tendency to shy away from challenges that are above their current ability and would – in their mindset – find them wanting. Conversely, she has found that people who believe ability can be improved through hard work tend to welcome such challenges as growth opportunities.Dweck’s research also found that it is possible to influence a person’s response to such challenges. As described on pages 24-26 of her book, Self Theories:We’ve succeeded in influencing students’ theories of intelligence in other studies as well. One such study, with college students, was conducted by Randall Bergen (Bergen, 1992). For the study, Bergen wrote two Psychology Today-type articles, complete with graphics. Through the use of vivid case studies in what was said to be the latest scientific research, each article made an extremely compelling case for one of the theories [either that ability is innate and immutable or that it can be developed through effort]. In fact, even other graduate students in our lab, not knowing the origins of the articles, believed they were real. ... EE 190, Prof. Hellman, Handout #6, February 24, 2011, Page 1 of 27[Both articles began by describing an eight-month old baby, named Adam, who had exceptional abilities, normally not seen until ages three or four.] ... The entity theory article [the first mindset] went on to explain Adam’s exceptional abilities in terms of fixed, innate intelligence, concluding that the brilliance of Mozart and Einstein was mostly built into them at birth:Their genius was probably a result of their DNA, not their schooling, not the amount of attention their parents gave them, not their own efforts to advance themselves. These great men were probably born, not made.The incremental theory article [the second mindset, which believes that ability can be developed by hard work] began the same way but went on to explain baby Adam’s unusual abilities in terms of his challenging environment. They concluded that the brilliance of people such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein was a result of their actions and their environments, not their genes.Bergen found that the articles had a clear impact on students’ theories of intelligence and on their persistence in the face of failure, a topic we take up in the next section.Ying Yi Hong, C. Y. Chiu, Derrick Lin, and I (Hong et al, 1998, study 4) also used these articles to influence college students’ theories of intelligence. This study was designed as a follow-up to the study we just described, in which entering freshmen were asked about their interest in a remedial English course that could aid their scholastic performance.The aim of this next study was to see if students who were given an entity theory of intelligence would pass up a chance to enhance their deficient skills, just as the students with entity theories had done in the original study. In this study, college students were first given Bergen’s Psychology Today-type articles as part of their reading comprehension test. Half of them read the vivid and convincing version that espoused the entity theory and the other half read the vivid and convincing version that espoused the incremental theory. After answering some questions about the passage they had read, students went on to the second part of the study, a nonverbal ability test.Here they worked on the set of problems and received feedback that they had done relatively well ... or relatively poorly… However, before moving to the next set of problems, students were offered a tutorial “that was found to be effective in improving performance on the test for most people.” All the students had room for improvement. The question was: Who would take advantage of this tutorial?Interestingly, most of the students who had done fairly well elected to take the tutorial. Of the students who had done relatively well, 73.3% of those given an EE 190, Prof. Hellman, Handout #6, February 24, 2011, Page 2 of 27incremental theory and 60.0% of those given an entity theory said they wanted to take the tutorial. … Among those who had done poorly, a different story emerged. The students who were exposed to the incremental theory still wanted to do tutorial (73.3% elected to take it). However, those who were exposed to the entity theory rejected the opportunity to improve their skills. Only 13.3% of the students in this group said they wanted to take the tutorial. Once again, when students have a fixed view of intelligence, those who most need remedial work are the ones who most clearly avoid it.In short, we have shown that it is possible to influence students’ theories about their intelligence, and that when we do so we influence their goals and concerns. Those who were led to believe their intelligence is fixed begin to have overriding concerns about looking smart and begin to sacrifice learning opportunities when there is a threat of exposing their deficiencies. Those who are led to believe their intelligence


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