In a study, a group of fifth graders were told that they did well in their tests using different praises.

The first group of students (referred in the infographic as S) were praised for their ability. “Wow, you must be SMART at these problems.”

The second group, however, were given praises for their effort. “Wow, you must have WORKED HARD at these problems.” (hence labelled in the infographic as WH)

Later on, they were given a mild failure experience using much harder test questions.

Look at how they responded.

Firstly, they were asked whether or not they would like to take the challenging questions home to practice.

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To the surprise, the WH group were more likely to want to take the problems home rather than the S group. Did the S group give up on the failure because they think solving the problem is beyond their ability? Did the WH group not give up?

The post-attitude

Afterwards, the students are given the third set of questions to work on. The WH group got more questions right.

For the last, they were asked to choose between two options: seeing their peers’ test scores or reading about how to do better on the test.

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Having praised and appreciated for their hard work, the WH group chose to read on how to do better. The S group, whose ability was recognised, chose to see their peers’ test scores.

What do we learn?

While one group focuses on their failure, the others took it as learning opportunity and did better later on.

For the SMART group, the praise for their ability made them focus on how gifted they are.

On the other hand, the WORK HARD group receiving praises for their effort focused on learning from their mistakes to do better.

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Forget about proving our abilities! Instead, set growth goals for ourselves, and work hard through the challenges!

(The study was done by Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck, Columbia University. The full report is accessible from Socialpsychonline.)