Good Grades

دوره: The Science of Well-Being / فصل: Stuff that Really Makes Us Happy / درس 3

Good Grades

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Now we're going to do a different and maybe even closer to home for you guys, thing that we talked about before, which is what you should want in the context of your learning goals here in terms of whether you should be shooting for good grades. This is the idea that your intelligence and all your skills and all that stuff, it can be trained, you might start with some basic abilities, but those get improved over time through hard work. Interestingly we now have some neuroscience evidence of the kinds of things that are going wrong in the context of the moment when you're getting bad feedback in these two different mindsets.

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Now we’re going to do a different and maybe even closer to home for you guys, thing that we talked about before, which is what you should want in the context of your learning goals here in terms of whether you should be shooting for good grades. Like how should you be participating in your own learning while you’re here at Yale? Just a reminder about good grades because I feel like even though I’ve showed you this graph a few times already, it’s important to hit home. What we’re seeing is that just getting good grades doesn’t make us happier. Just a reminder this fantastic Levine Et Al study where they had people predict. How are you going to feel if you get grade that’s lower and higher than you expect on this scale? Just a reminder what happens is that people mispredict. They predict that if they get a grade that’s higher than expected they’re going to be really high on that scale. If they get a grade that’s lower than expected they’re going to be really low. But what actually happens is pretty much no difference. I say this again because like you guys are just about to go into midterms. My guess is if I asked you your predictions you’d be falling prey to this very effect. But it’s just not true, your predictions are off. And so, we’ve seen that grades are not the thing to focus on. But what is? There’s a second reason that grades are a bad thing to focus on. It doesn’t make us as happy as we think. But it turns out that focusing on grades also does something else that we probably don’t like, which is that it steals away the deep motivation we have for learning about stuff in general. So probably most of you guys were Yale students at some point back in the day were like this little girl when you like read these books just to learn this stuff. You thought this stuff was super cool. And somewhere along the way this became a thing that people started complaining about on Facebook, about how much they like dislike this stuff, like what happened? Well what happened was that we set up structures for you guys that allowed you not to do these kinds of cool learning things just for the love of learning, it allowed you to do them for a different motivational factor which is something external to the situation. And so psychologists define these kinds of motivators as in two categories. Can think of extrinsic motivations, which is that you want to engage in a behavior in part to get some external reward, be it a grade, or to avoid a punishment, like you’re doing it because somebody else is giving you some outside motivation to do it. Or you could do a different task because you have an intrinsic motivation. You just do it because you like it, right? Probably those of you who weren’t on the ski trip yesterday didn’t go on the ski trip because someone paid you to do it because you knew you’re going to get a good grade or it is just like fun to go on the ski trip, right? The idea is that these things that are internally motivated, no one has to pay us to do them. There’s kind of fun in and of themselves. At some point for all of you, learning was that kind of thing, it was just fun in and of itself to do this stuff. But the presence of these external motivators might have a kind of counter-intuitive effect. It might steal the intrinsic motivation, kind of move all the motivation to the extrinsic side. Is that really what happens? Well, if you’ve taken an intro psych you’ve probably heard about a super famous study on motivation by Deci back in the 1970s. He picked an activity that people find kind of intrinsically motivating, like playing with this I guess it’s called a Soma puzzle where you have to kind of pull all the blocks together to make a square. It’s kind of hard to do, so people get really into it and they like want to play with it to see how many blocks they can get together. And he asks the question, would giving people some evaluation, some grade or some extrinsic motivation affect how much they like doing it on their own? So here is how the task was set up. Subjects came in to do this puzzle and they did it over three visits. In the first visit, it was the same for everybody, everybody just did the puzzle for free. In the second visit though the people were split into two conditions, half of them were paid a dollar to do this puzzle, which in the 70s was like more money than it is now but not like an astronomical amount of money, you’re not getting paid very much, you get paid to do it. Other people, there was no mention of money, you just did the puzzle for free. And then everybody comes back on visit three and nobody is paid anymore. I think they actually tell the subjects like, oh we ran out of money last the subject of the first condition, oh we ran out of money this time, so we can’t pay you but you can just do it if you want to do it. And the question is, did the payment affect people’s motivation on time three presuming people are a chance of how much they would like this puzzle normally, does the payment mess them up? And so here’s what you find if you look at the amount of seconds everybody works in the payment condition and the no payment condition. At the first start in the intro everybody is doing it for about the same amount of time, if anything the paid people are doing it for even more times, so may be they happen to like it a little more. When you actually get paid to do it, you see the effect of incentives that everybody expects which is that, from paying you to do this you’re probably going to do this for even longer than you did before. But the real question that’s relevant for motivation is, what happens at time three when you come back and you’re not getting paid if you’re in the first condition? And what you find is that those individuals dipped down to a pretty substantial degree. They don’t want to do it anymore because it’s no longer internally fun just to play with this puzzle. Having that external motivation is actually killing your internal motivation to enjoy this thing that you used to like before. And so, this is the sad thing about extrinsic motivators, is that they seem to have the capacity to undermine your intrinsic motivation. Why are we talking about this in the context of grades? As you get more and more obsessed about what that grade is, as you care about it, because it matters for your internship or it matters for you to get into medical school and so on, it’s stripping away the very love of learning that probably got you here in the first place, which is kind of sad if like one of your goals is probably not just to get a good job and all that stuff but to learn some interesting things while you’re here at college. And so I think the kind of focus on grades that students have nowadays might be really undermining intrinsic motivation in an important way. And so kind of finding a way to get rid of grades as your focus can probably help your motivation. And the consequence is like you’ll just like doing the stuff for the fact doing this stuff which is probably much more fun than the reverse. But it turns out that a focus on grades can do something else that leads to a mindset that’s particularly problematic. Because in addition to undermining intrinsic motivation, a focus on grades can also undermine a mindset that’s known as the growth mindset. What do I mean by this? Well the idea of a growth mindset comes from a fantastic researcher at Stanford, Carol Dweck, who’s kind of studied the beliefs that we have about our own abilities and the beliefs that we have about our own learning. And what she finds is that people tend to fall into one of two categories in terms of their beliefs. Some people have what she calls a growth mindset which she thinks of as very good. This is the idea that your intelligence and all your skills and all that stuff, it can be trained, you might start with some basic abilities, but those get improved over time through hard work. The idea that intelligence isn’t fixed you can kind of change it with some effort. That’s a growth mindset. Some people kind of believe intelligence works like that, but other people have a different kind of mindset which she calls a fixed mindset, which is kind of just the opposite. It’s this belief that intelligence or your skill sets, they’re just kind of these basic qualities that are there that maybe you’re born with, and you can’t really do much with them once you have them, you kind of just have them or not. And really what everything in life is doing is revealing whether you’re like truly smart, or truly skilled, or not. It turns out people fall into one of these two different mindsets but they have all kinds of consequences for how you learn and how well you do in school and in particular how you react to failure. Because the idea is that if you are a fixed mindset person, you’re probably going to focus a lot on grades and performance in part because that’s your measure of your intelligence, right? It’s telling you this like on a signal of what you were born with and your basic qualities that you kind of can’t change. In contrast if you’re a growth mindset person, you’ll focus a little bit on grades but only as kind of a measure of whether or not you’re learning. What you want to do is see those grades going up. You believe you can do that through hard effort. And that means you’re not going to focus as much on the outcomes. These mindsets also have other features too, which is that for a fixed mindset you think well, good performance just comes naturally. I’m either going to do well or I’m not. Whereas if you have a growth mindset you’re constantly thinking that well, to get better it’s going to require some hard work. If I put more work in it’s going to make me even stronger. Fixed Mindset folks see hard work as a bad thing because as soon as they have to work at something they’re - it’s revealed to them like “wait I thought I was really smart. Then all of a sudden I must not be”. Whereas for growth mindset hard work is really good you’re like “oh my gosh I got to work hard at this. The more I’m working the more this is a signal that I’m getting better and better over time”. And so, for fixed mindset folks seeing effort is bad it’s scary it’s shameful. Whereas for a growth mindset people it’s usually pretty good. And this leads fixed mindset people to do these nasty things where they kind of conceal their deficiencies. Whereas growth mindset people are kind of liking deficiencies and making the most out of them. It also leads a fixed mindset folks to hide their mistakes which is probably bad, whereas growth mindset people like to see their mistakes because that’s like “ooh this is something I can capitalize on”. This seems like the stuff that we’re seeing the fixed mindset is overall kind of bad. Probably it is the case that in reality we’re not in a fixed mindset. We know people can get better over time right that’s just an incorrect notion of the way minds work. And it’s also bad that you kind of see it as soon as you have to have effort you kind of shy away from things and get really sad. It also comes with a host of kind of depressive symptoms, kind of worries about your own efficiency and so on. In general it’s really bad but it also turns out it’s bad for performance. It’s bad for performance particularly at times when you need to work the hardest, particularly at times where you’re going to have to struggle with things because that’s just the nature of what you’re trying to learn. And so, that’s what Carol Dweck and her colleagues have looked at. In all these different contexts, can your mindset actually affect your performance when the going gets tough? And so, she did this in one context with college premed students, she measured their different mindsets and she saw what happened when they had to take those premed classes that are not known to be very easy. Things like Orgo and so on. Like do you just say that’s it, I have a fixed mindset I must not be smart science I’m out, or do you see those challenges as something cool that you can kind of learn from. And so, what did she find when she tells them what she finds is that people with a fixed mindset were more worried about grades than growth mindset folks. Again it makes sense because they’re like trying to see what their really fixed abilities are. And as soon as they did really lost confidence and often would drop classes and take off. Whereas those with a growth mindset seemed to be concerned about learning the material, and in fact when they did poorly, they ended up working harder. They realize oh I can kind of calibrate how much work I have to put in. And they did better. How does this result in their grades? Well, what you find is that folks with a growth mindset in the end had a higher final orgo grade than those with a fixed mindset, controlling for performance and science background and all this stuff. Another neat thing they find concerns differences in where you start and where you end. Because there is one spot where a fixed mindset allows you to do well and that’s the one case where you come in with a high grade and it’s not very hard for you. When you come in with a high grade at first, this is kind of what you come in with on that x axis and head of where you wind up on your final exam grade over there. If you come in with a high grade then a fixed mindset kind of helps you because you’re like yep I’m really smart, I’m just proving that I’m really smart and like you continue to have this belief that you’re really smart and you’re fine. In contrast if you kind of come in and you need to do some work, a growth mindset is going to be helpful for you. What’s the consequence of this? It shows that the only spot where a fixed mindset is good is if you’re never really growing or learning, like if you’re good at something and just stay at that level, then a fixed mindset is good because you believe like yep I’m going to be awesome at that and you stay awesome at that. But at anything where you have to actually grow and improve, a growth mindset is going to help you out even more. And so, this is what they find, and is that growth mindsets show no decrease in intrinsic motivation when grades are bad fixed mindset folks drop a lot. Overall growth mindset had higher grades whereas and higher performance increases. So, both the final grade and the kind of slope of increase. Fixed mindsets you only achieve good grades at the end if you’re achieving good performance in the beginning and at any point where your grade drops, any signal that things are going bad, grades get even worse over time, you see a performance drop over time, and as you might guess there’s some emotions that go with this fixed mindset. There’s more rumination about whether or not you’re good at science and whether you’re good at orgo in general and there’s a real loss of self-worth for nearly everybody who kind of drops at any point. So, this is bad. It’s not a mindset that’s going to cruise you through the sciences very well. It’s also not a mindset that’s going to cruise you through any spot where you have to have some growth. So, another spot we’re Dwek and colleagues have done this work, is in contexts like in adolescence, like in the shift from middle school to junior high, where you’re going through things like learning hard math for the first time and so on. How does that affect how these different mindsets affect students performance? Well, they tested that in seventh graders. They match students with different achievement scores and they tested whether they had a fixed or growth mindset. And you see the same classic things fixed mindset those seventh graders are super focused on their grades, growth mindset students are more focused on learning than their grades. Does this have a consequence for their math scores moving through from seventh grade on? Well, this is what you see. Again this is matched for students grades coming in is that students with a fixed mindset when they see algebra in this scary stuff for the first time, like either don’t do any better or are like can almost get a little bit worth worse whereas Growth Mindset students are kind of seeing this challenge of this new math as a good thing and not getting a decrease in self-worth and so on. Interestingly we now have some neuroscience evidence of the kinds of things that are going wrong in the context of the moment when you’re getting bad feedback in these two different mindsets. And so, mangles and colleagues did this cool study where they used ERP caps to kind of measure people’s attention over time and where they were devoting their attention. And this was the task they gave folks. They had students answering these hard questions on a computer and the way it works is I’d ask you a hard question you have to do it, give your answer and then you’d get two things. First you’d get feedback, I would just say right or wrong you learn whether you got it right or wrong. And then, second after that you’re going to get the correct answer if you got it wrong. And then, what they did at the end of this you do all these hard questions, you think it’s just like doing these questions and then I say surprise, we’re going to see how much you really learn. We give you all the correct answers, do you actually remember them? And we’re going to see how this varies depending on different mindsets. And so, here’s what these folks find, what they find is that there’s a difference in when attentional signals in the brain are on depending on your mindset. So, if you have a fixed mindset, all the kind of ERP signals that are associated with attention come on when I tell you whether you’re right or wrong, that’s when you’re like was I right or wrong and you find that information out. If you have a growth mindset in contrast those brainwaves kick on more when I show you the correct answer. You don’t care as much if you’re right or wrong. You’re sitting there waiting to soak in like oh hey what was the correct answer so I can learn something. And the consequence of that as you might expect if you have a mindset that’s not letting you even look at the correct answer, is that you don’t actually learn as much. And that’s what this graph is showing, it’s showing in different kinds of conditions where you sort of like thought you had a lower and higher chance of saying the answer or you just skip that question. You said I’m probably not going to know it. In all those cases, later when I retest you, those yellow growth mindset bars are doing better. You’re actually learning the material better. We kind of know why it’s like if you’re so focused on the grade and your evaluation as kind of as features of a growth mindset you’re not going to learn the correct answer. And so, are we kind of at the mercy of our mindset? Some of you I’m seeing a lot of furrowed faces. Maybe you had the intuition that I had which is that I growing up totally was like all fixed mindset so I was like I grew up and I was like I’m smart. When I got to challenging things including math I like kind of was like Oh man I must not be a math person and this is the reason I still haven’t taken calculus to this day because I got so like worried about math and whether I was good at math and all the stuff that I kind of shied away from it. Because to me it was like oh man this is the signal that I’m just like not good at it. So, I grew up with a very fixed mindset. The good news is that you can actually learn to have a growth mindset which is good because basically all of neuroscience shows that a growth mindset is the correct mindset anyway. So, we kind of have a false theory if you have a fixed mindset. But this is what Blackwell and colleagues said. They said, can we teach people to kind of get over their fixed mindset? Can we teach them to have either a fixed or a growth mindset? And they did this by just teaching students about neuroscience and they either gave you an article that kind of showed a fixed mindset they said, “Hey, you know what? Neuroscience is showing is like you’re kind of born with something. If you’re smart or you’re not smart, like hard work doesn’t work as much as you think”. Or they give you an article that taught you something about a growth mindset. They said, “You know what? We’re learning is that anything you put hard work into, you’re going to get better. There’s no basic abilities that you’re born with. It’s all learning and growth. And yada yada”. So, they give students this feedback in the beginning and then they measure whether or not their math grades go up after this training those same math grades that I just showed you before this tough time in seventh and eighth grade algebra where these mindsets can really mess you up. And here’s what they find, time one when nobody’s learned anything. Time two is the math grades as is typical in junior high where your math skills are kind of going down. Then they give you this intervention, and what they find is that in the control case where you’re learning about the fixed mindset, grades are going down even more, whereas if I give you the information about the growth mindset, then I pop you back up again. I can recover your score just by changing your mindset, just by getting you to think that hard work is actually going to pay off. And so, the upshot is that all of you guys who are worried about good grades are undermining your intrinsic motivation and probably messing with your mindset. What you really want to get is not good grades but a good mindset and a good that will deliver back to you the thing that matters most which is your intrinsic motivation and your ability to learn this stuff. And if you’re worried that you have very fixed mindset and you want some interventions, mostly you just have to read about all of modern neuroscience which is showing a growth mindset is probably the correct one, but I can even give you the little blurb interventions they use for college students. You can just read that every day and the data suggests it will get better and better. And so, that is sort of the second thing in our better wanting these ways that we’re kind of not wanting the right parts of things. What we saw is that we can want the right parts of good grades, we can want the right parts of a good job, but our mind doesn’t really click into the right stuff.

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