Researchers at Michigan State University saw instant changes in the brains of study participants when they were told that hard work is more important than genetics.
Whether or not that is true, says lead investigator Hans Schroder, “giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance.”
In the study, two groups read different articles about intelligence. One said it was largely genetic, the other discussed how challenging environments probably led to the brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.
Afterwards, researchers analyzed brain activity as the participants answered questions about the main points of their article.
Writing in Biological Psychology, Schroder and his colleagues say their work shows that subtle messages about abilities can have a big impact on our attitudes about what we can accomplish.
Those in the study who read that intelligence was genetic focused on their responses as if they were concerned with doing well on the test, but that attention did not lead to improved performance in subsequent sessions.
Those in the other group showed a more efficient brain response after they made a mistake, suggesting they thought they could do better on the next test. And the more attention they paid to errors, the faster they responded the next time.