How we praise children may be instilling a more entity or incremental theory about personality traits

How we praise one another or ourselves may be affected by whether we have an entity theory or incremental theory about personality traits such as intelligence, or other traits such as trustworthiness or fairness. Hearing praise about what a good child we are can leave the underlying impression that if circumstances were different then we would be a bad child. Praise about how good we were for scoring well on the test or for drawing a pretty picture may be leaving the impression that next time if we score poorly on the test or make a less nice drawing that we are a bad child. [1]

Praise that focuses on the effort involved – or lack of effort – instead focuses on the job at hand rather than any innate goodness or badness. Praise about the effort involved, such as, “Great, you finished almost all of the questions and put in a lot of work on solving them, with more time you may have been able to finish all of the problems,” might be more successful in the long run at promoting a sense that working hard on a problem can lead to success without placing an external judgement on the child’s general goodness or badness. Praising the process that a child used rather than praising or criticizing the child may help children feel more confident about their ability to successfully handle challenges. Praise feels good in the short term but can lead the child to  be more self critical and to give up when they run into more difficult work. [1]

Research suggests  that people with a more fixed view of personality, or entity theory, may be judging others and themselves more harshly. While people with the more fluid view of personality, the incremental theory that people can change and improve their skills over time, make fewer snap judgments about themselves or others. [1]

Within the field of nutrition people who are trying to practice healthier eating habits may face setbacks in their food choices. It is important for the overall success of the dietary changes for them to see the unhealthier choices as simply unhealthier choices for that day or meal rather than a more general reflection of their overall chances of sticking with the new eating habits over time. One day’s unhealthy choices are unlikely to lead to long term ill health but if the unhealthy choices are viewed as proof that the person is a bad person who might as well give up trying then the day’s unhealthy choices might add to the long term risk of ill health. Eating disorders can be a person’s way of trying to cope with unrecognized emotional issues. Gentleness with oneself while trying to practice new eating habits may help with getting through minor setbacks without giving up on the overall goal of change.

The book Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (1999), by Carol S. Dweck, is written for the academic field of social psychology however it is a review of research and doesn’t go into detail about statistical analysis which makes it fairly accessible for the general interest reader. It is part of the series Essays in Social Psychology by Psychology Press. [1]

Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by severe control of caloric intake, is mentioned as an example of a condition where individuals can harm themselves in the pursuit of a perfect self ([1], page 138) but the book is not about nutrition specifically. It discusses how cognitive therapy techniques can help children and adults learn more productive views of self and how well meaning praise may actually be promoting increased risk of giving up when setbacks are encountered. How we talk to children and adolescents about their size can have significant impact on the risk of their developing disordered eating patterns:

In addition, history of depression and history of teasing by a teacher or coach have been linked to the onset of an eating disorder 30. [2]

A focus on healthy exercise habits and regular meals of various types of foods may be more helpful than overly focusing on weight or size or a few specific food choices. Health occurs over time not just at each meal. Process oriented help for healthy eating might better focus on helping the person recognize their hunger and fullness signals and recognizing when thirst for water might actually be the primary body sensation they are feeling.

The fixed or entity theory of self might suggest to a child or adult that their ability to change their eating habits or fitness level is not possible while a fluid incremental theory of self might suggest that with effort the child or adult’s ability to change their eating habits or fitness level is possible. It can be helpful to not make weight loss or size changes the primary goal when trying to help someone address eating habits. Changing habits can support a healthy gradual change in weight or size or may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes or high blood pressure from developing even if there aren’t large changes in weight or size. Cognitive behavior therapy can be helpful for promoting healthy eating and lifestyle changes. [23]

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./

  1. Carol S. Dweck, Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (Psychology Press, 1999, Ann Arbor) [1]
  2. Denise E. Wilfley, Ph.D., Rachel P. Kolko, B.A., and Andrea E. Kass, B.A., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Weight Management and Eating Disorders in Children and AdolescentsChild Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2011 Apr; 20(2): 271–285. . Full text available online. [2]
  3. Rebecca Murphy, DClinPsych. et al, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders, Psychiatric Clinics of North America Vol 33, Issue 3, Sept. 2010, Pages 611–627. Full text available online. [3]


Intelligence is not a fixed entity, but believing that may make it so

Research in the field of social psychology suggests that people have two different basic beliefs about intelligence. A few people fall into a middle ground between the two basic beliefs but the majority tend to fall into one or the other set of beliefs. [1]

One group tends to see intelligence as a fixed entity that you either have or don’t have; that you are born with a certain amount and that amount can’t be changed much throughout life; [1], that you either are an Albert Einstein type or you aren’t. This belief is somewhat true in that research does suggest that intelligence is 40 to 80% due to genetics – how smart your parents are does correlate with how smart you may be. [2],  However that leaves up to 60% of intelligence due to your own health status and work effort. If you believe that you will never be as smart as Albert Einstein so it just isn’t worth trying to improve or study, then that is a self-fulfilling belief. Someone who doesn’t study is unlikely to improve their skills or to stick to a difficult problem long enough to solve it.

Albert Einstein wasn’t a straight A student but that didn’t stop him from sticking with his field of interest and breaking new ground in the understanding of physics. But he probably wasn’t as smart as Jean Liedloff was in the field of child rearing where she broke new ground in the understanding of natural parenting strategies. And Jean Liedloff probably wasn’t as smart as Albert Einstein was in the field of physics but that is okay. We all are better off for having experts in a variety of fields of study.

Jean Leidloff is less well known then Albert Einstein but she did go where few before her had gone – and she stayed for a few years. Jean is best known for her book, The Continuum Concept, published in 1975. She described her time spent living with a South American tribe and her observations of their parenting practices. The book formed a basis for the attachment parenting movement.

The second basic theory of intelligence is that intelligence is incremental – that intelligence is something fluid that can be changed and increased with more study and effort. [1] This core belief is associated with students viewing learning as a fun self challenge. Students with a more incremental theory of intelligence are more likely to choose challenging learning tasks and to avoid tasks that they have already mastered (super boring, man). Students with a more entity theory of intelligence may be more likely to choose tasks that they will be able to complete easily as a way of proving to themselves how smart they are or to show others how smart they are. Students with the entity theory of intelligence may be more likely to feel threatened by other students who do well on a test or project; while students with the incremental theory of intelligence primarily judge their progress against their own previous work – with intelligence as a fluid changeable trait they are eager to learn and challenge themselves against themselves. [1]

Intelligence is fluid over the whole lifespan. Reaction times may be faster in our teens and twenties but social skills continue to improve on average with each decade of life. [3]

In the U.S. the No Child Left Behind legislation greatly increased the number of tests that young children are made to take and teachers can lose their jobs and schools can lose their funding if children don’t perform well on the tests. [4] The policy may be leaving all the children behind by teaching them the entity theory of intelligence – that intelligence is something that you can measure with a test and that you either have or you don’t. The entity theory of intelligence is associated with an increased risk of giving up when faced with unfamiliar, confusing, or difficult work. [1] More children are leaving the school system before they graduate, that also can leave them behind. [11, 12] Teaching to the test may help bring some children up to average but it may also be leaving the self-challengers in a state of mind numbing boredom and leading them to dropping out; or to only working for the easy ‘A’ instead of working to their maximum capability; or to acting up in class and becoming a behavior problem.

We need people with a variety of types of interests and skills and who see challenge as something fun and worth the work. The incremental theory of intelligence is a more accurate reflection of how our brains work over the decades. Testing young children every year of their early lives may be fostering the more inaccurate entity theory of intelligence. The good news is that children can be taught the incremental theory of intelligence simply by encouraging more projects with learning goals rather than performance goals. [1]

A learning goal might sound something like: “This task may be a little challenging but that is okay it will help you learn a new skill and the grade isn’t important.” And a performance goal might sound something like: “This task will be graded and your grade says something about your level of intelligence” –> and in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs –> “and your teacher’s job and your schools budget may be affected by your grade.”.

Young children’s core beliefs may be harmed by the frequent testing that has become standard and high stakes that have become associated with the tests, in my opinion at least.

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./

  1. Carol S. Dweck, Self-theories; Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, (Psychology Press, 1999, Ann Arbor) [1]

7/25/2018, A book from a more recent post reviews the history of study of intelligence and intelligence testing – it was to help find school age students that needed extra help and is not representative of all types of intelligence that adults need to be successful but it remains somewhat helpful for predicting ability to learn in school:

  1. Richard J. Haier, The Neuroscience of Intelligence, (Cambridge University Press, 2017, New York), (1)


Intelligence differences and Racism, Classism, and Corporate-profit-mongerism

Yes, racism is bad and slavery is bad. Slavery was bad when Africans were brought to the Americas, north and south, against their will and it was bad centuries earlier when blondes from the area that is now Finland were shipped to a variety of areas around the world against their will.

Racism and Class-ism in History:

Having slaves that look different from the rest of a population likely made it easier to control and limit their movement; like a neighborhood game played among boys where one team simply removes their shirts – the shirts and the skins makes an easy way to tell who is playing on which team without a need for expensive uniforms.

Slaves were also seized in the areas where Moscow and Poland are located. Some families were allowed to buy back their loved ones if they could afford it, while others in times of famine were able to sell their children to the slave industry. Between “1200 until 1760, an estimated 6.5 million prisoners” were shipped to areas ranging from Italy to India. The more recent trade of African prisoners may have shipped as many as 12.5 million people over three and a half centuries to ports ranging from as far south as Argentina to as far north as Canada. The people taken in the earlier centuries of slave trade were primarily women and children who were sold as domestic and sexual workers while the later centuries of trade in humans focused on strong men for use as field laborers. [1]

Slavery is bad, but so was the slaughter of Native American people and the take over of their lands. Spanish conquistadors and European explorers killed the men of the native populations and bred with the women often enough that the genetic evidence can still be found in the mixed heritage of their ancestors. Genes from the Y chromosome can show who your father and grandfather and great-great-great-(etc.) grandfathers might have been while mitochondrial DNA can show who your mother, grandmother and great-great-great-(etc.) grandmothers might have been. [2]

Slavery is bad, and so is slaughtering native people and taking their land, and so was slaughtering disabled and black people and Jewish people and people with different political or religious beliefs during Hitler’s control of Germany. In the decade before Jewish people were collected and put in concentration camps and killed by Hitler’s regime, hundreds of thousands of black people and people with disabilities were put to death. At the end of the war when surviving prisoners were freed from the concentration camps there were homosexual prisoners that were actually left imprisoned. [3] They weren’t given their own country. Eleven million people were killed by the Hitler regime but we tend to only hear about the six million people of Jewish  ancestry. Who decides what is fair or bad or worth mentioning in textbooks?

Japanese Americans were rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps in the United States of America during World War II. That was also bad, in my opinion at least.

It turns out that the genetic joke is on Hitler; the only pure race of humans is Sub-Saharan Africans, the rest of the world’s peoples have a mixture of genes made up mostly of Sub-Saharan African genes combined with a small percentage from Neanderthal and Denisovan people and one other unidentified early race of people. [2]

So who decides what is fair or bad? Possibly the people with the biggest guns or the fastest horses or the fastest intellect or the ones with the most powerful friends.

Racism, Class-ism, and Corporate Profit-Monger-ism in Modern Times:

It is not fair that today in the United States there are more prisoners in a for-profit prison industry then there were slaves during the years of the African slave trade, in my opinion at least. It does not seem fair to me that people are sent to the for-profit-prison-industry for standing on the sidewalk while looking female and attractive (loitering) or while male and not pale (obstructing pedestrian traffic) or while male and smoking a hand rolled tobacco cigarette (undercover police drug bust – ouch, that’s too bad that your head was slammed against the pavement by what seemed to be a mugging by gangsters which turned out to be a wrongful arrest by undercover officers instead). [4]

If the wrongfully arrested don’t have someone to post bail for them, then they have to stay in jail where they are encouraged to sign plea agreements, which is signing that you agree to plead guilt of the alleged crime and which results in the person having an arrest record. If the person gets a few standing-on-the-sidewalk arrests, then the person becomes a repeat offender with multiple arrests on their record and risk of longer jail terms for future standing-on-the-sidewalk arrests. [4]

Our assumption that we have a system that assumes we are innocent until proven guilty may be inaccurate. The system seems to have changed into a system of guilty until you can post bail or otherwise defend yourself.

It doesn’t seem fair that people who default on their credit card debt can have their cars seized or their wages garnished when they never received a summons to court about the unpaid debt. Whistle-blowers in the banking industry have lost their jobs trying to inform the government about unfair practices by the banks in their handling of mortgage and credit card debt but the banks got bailed out and no bank executives went to jail.

Aggressive business tactics are viewed as just doing good business – but good business for whom? Pensioners have lost their pensions and individuals have lost their homes or cars. Business practices that depend on fraudulent legal devices are bad, and fraudulent, and it is unfair that it is the whistle-blower who tried to protect small credit card holders who lost her job. Some in-house lawyers did lose their jobs at the bank involved in the case. [4, 6] A different whistle-blower in the flawed home loans scandal is being awarded a percentage of the settlement fine that was collected by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). [5]

It is unfair that the Welfare system has turned into a fraud detection system that may send individuals to the for-profit prison industry over a son’s too large pants (might be evidence that a boyfriend is staying in the home instead of a son with too large pants.) Rates of violent crime has been dropping and rates of welfare recipients have also been dropping, yet prison population is going up. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is if you are not able to read the plea agreement or the Welfare rights statement that a person in a position of authority is prompting you to sign.  [4] Is entrapment fair just because someone isn’t able to read the subtext of an unfair statement?

Instead of subsidizing a for-profit prison industry we could subsidize a for-profit invasive species control industry and group homes for those with mental health problems or for parents who need help providing for their children. The current Welfare system makes getting married a bad financial decision for mothers and that is a system that is probably not ideal for the children.

Group Homes might help families stay together and grow together:

A group home that is centered around the children who are in need might provide group dining room and daycare facilities and parents could be asked to work a certain number of hours working in the kitchen or daycare or in cleaning the communal areas. Efficiency apartments could be available for the individual families and marriage could be encouraged for parents who want to stay in the group facility with their children. Stipends for the volunteer hours might provide some cash allotment but increasing amounts for having increasing numbers of children wouldn’t be provided. The children’s financial support would be tied to their stay at the group home. Parents could be encouraged to seek paying jobs while staying in their efficiency apartment within the larger group home and would be allowed to save towards getting their own place instead of the current system which takes away Welfare payments when the recipient finds other paying work or sends the recipient to jail for fraud if undeclared income is discovered by the Welfare fraud investigative team or because of a tip from a disgruntled ex-friend or family member.

Intelligence and Natural Differences:

Equal rights and equal opportunities are important but expecting equal outcomes is not reasonable. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and it is not fair that “aggressive” but fraudulent business practices are awarded billions while individuals are sent to for-profit prisons over a few hundred dollars in Welfare benefits – that’s not very fair at all, in my opinion at least.

It is a nice idea that a college education can assure a good job and good life but it isn’t really true. College is hard because the jobs that students are being prepared for are demanding. Preparing some people for technical jobs and some people for basic life skills management or for working a certain number of hours within a group home may be more realistic.

We are all different and that is what provides a diverse range of talents. We need more jobs for people who have more physical skills than intellectual ones and we need to protect them from unfair “aggressive” business practices because it is really not fair that someone is sent to jail because they signed a plea agreement or Welfare paper that they didn’t understand, in my opinion at least.

Class-ism and Injustice in the name of defense, is offensive, to me at least:

A college degree didn’t save Miriam Carey from being shot multiple times after having turned the wrong way onto White House grounds. [7] An off duty officer dressed in a short sleeve shirt and caring an ice chest moved a mobile barricade in the way of her car while she was trying to leave. He and the barricade got knocked down and she was chased for several blocks by multiple police cars before officers killed her with five gun shot wounds. Two drunken Secret Service officers actually did drive onto White House grounds and they weren’t shot multiple times or even once. [8]

Miriam Carey’s boyfriend had asked for help for her. She was a health professional who was being treated for severe postpartum depression with irrational beliefs. She had her young baby in the car with her on the day she turned the wrong way onto White House grounds and then failed to stop when directed to do so by the off duty officer who was not in uniform. Miraculously her baby is alive and in the custody of the father, her boyfriend who had tried to get adequate help for her condition. The tragic event happened months after the delivery of her baby when Miriam Carey may have been trying to gradually stop the use of her psychiatric medication.

We need more mental health care facilities and a police force that doesn’t shoot first and assume one is guilty until proven innocence. It is likely that if she had survived the multiple shots that she would have been arrested for the misdemeanor offense of failing to stop when signaled to do so by the police cars who pursued her after she tried to leave the area by the White House. [7] It seems unfair to me that Secret Service officers receive different treatment than other people. The two drunken officers weren’t arrested or shot but they were reassigned to “non-supervisory and non-operational” assignments (in other words, they didn’t even lose their jobs). [8]

Corporate profit-monger-ism going international may be dangerous to health:

Currently the international community is facing the possibility of increased power being given to corporations if the Trans Pacific Partnership is passed. It includes language that would allow corporations to sue nations for any laws that might impede their profit margins. [9] For example some nations have passed cigarette packaging laws that highlight the negative health risks associated with smoking and tobacco corporations have tried to sue the nations regarding the special packaging requirements. The large tobacco corporations may have a larger income than some of the small nations that are trying to resist the lawsuits. Sales of cigarettes have dropped in the U.S. and the companies are seeking more customers elsewhere. [10] People’s health is being put at risk for the sake of corporate profit and foreign nations that are trying to protect their citizens are being harassed by multiple lawsuits. That doesn’t seem fair, to me at least.

People as products of for-profit industries may also be dangerous to health:

A for-profit prison industry turns people into a product as does a for-profit health care system and a for-profit education system. Contracts with required quotas mean that police officers or Welfare fraud investigators may have to work just a little harder to arrest people for standing on sidewalks or for having suspiciously male clothing in the home of a single mother on Welfare. Contracts with for-profit prisons stipulate that states have to provide a certain number of prisoners or pay the difference anyway.

Manufacturing prisoners doesn’t seem fair or sensible. The cost to house prisoners is much greater than the cost of Welfare payments and the irony is that the rate of violent crime and use of Welfare has been dropping. To give a worse case example of privatization – if fire departments were for-profit and they had to meet quotas for numbers of fires put out each month then unscrupulous fire departments might start looking for buildings that look like they might be at risk for fires and test the theory by dropping a few lit matches – and that wouldn’t be fair or safe.

In Summary; we can learn from the past and we can change the future:

As a nation it seems sensible to take a second look at some of the policies that have developed over the years and consider changing directions to meet a changing reality. We live on a planet with limited resources and a growing population. Building on each other’s strengths instead of capitalizing aggressively on weaknesses seems like it would be more profitable in the long run, to me at least.

Profit Monger, definition: “A person, business or profession marked by avarice and greed.”

Classism, definition: “Discrimination or prejudice that is based on social class.”

Racism, definition: 1) “The belief that each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes” and/or 2) “that one race or group of races is superior or inferior to another race or group of races” that may lead to 3) “Prejudice or discrimination based upon race.”

There may be differences between groups on average but each individual has their own unique strengths and weaknesses and we can’t tell what those might be based on how someone looks or what their last name is.

We can help make opportunities available equally but we can not make children incapable of failing just by passing a law. The No Child Left Behind policy has led to increased teacher turn over and increased cheating at the teacher and administrative level and there are increased rates of students who leave school before graduating. We can help create stronger individuals by treating each child as an individual and helping them build their confidence in their own unique strengths and helping them learn to recognize their weaknesses and how to ask for help or to work within their range of abilities. [11, 12] Staying in school is associated with delaying the age at which young women have their first pregnancy which can help prevent complications of birth. [13] And education is more associated with voting than one’s economic bracket – a poor educated person is statistically more likely to vote than an uneducated rich person. [14, page 258]

Being relaxed may help boost intelligence scores when taking intelligence tests, [15], and race and economic bracket may have different effects on one’s stress and anxiety levels. Social acceptance of other’s differences may also be a factor. We can’t all be doctors or lawyers or NBA basketball players – and that is okay – but shooting people first and asking questions later doesn’t seem any more okay than arresting people for standing on public sidewalks.

/Disclosure: I am a nutritionist. Disclaimer: Information presented on this site is not intended as a substitute for medical care and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by your physician. Please see a health professional for individualized health care services./

  1. The Invisible History of the Human Race, How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures / by Christine Kenneally / 2014 []
  2. / homepage []
  3. The Divide; American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi, (Spiegel & Grau, 2014, New York)
  4. JPMorgan whistleblower gets $63.9 million in mortgage fraud deal / By Jonathan Stempel / March 7, 2014 []
  5. JP Morgan Chase Credit Card Robo-Signing Challenged / by Donald Petersen/ JUNE 25, 2011 []
  6. How Miriam Carey’s U-Turn at a Whitehouse Checkpoint Led to Her Death / by David Montgomery / Nov. 26, 2014 []
  7. Two Secret Service agents drunkenly crashed White House barricades: Official
  8. WikiLeaks Reveals TPP Proposal Allowing Corporations to Sue Nations, March 26, 2015 []
  9. Tobacco Firms’ Strategy Limits Poorer Nations Smoking Laws / by Sabrina Tavernise / Dec. 13, 2013 []
  10. New Study Offers Reality Check: No Child Left Behind is Increasing Dropout Rates, Feb. 15, 2008 []
  11. Don’t Call Them Dropouts; Understanding the Experiences of Young People Who Leave High School Before Graduation, A Report from America’s Promise Alliance and its Center for Promise at Tufts University with support from Target / May 20, 2014 []
  12. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kistof and Sheryl WuDunn
  13. The Bell Curve; Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray (The Free Press, 1994, New York)
  14. IQ Since “The Bell Curve”, by Christopher F. Chabris, August 1998 []