Posts Tagged ‘staying engaged’

Self Control and Grit

June 24, 2015

Angela Duckworth is a 2003 recipient of a MacArthur Award, better known as a genius award.  She is currently a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research holds many practical benefits and also accords with common sense.  Unfortunately this “common sense” is not often followed.

Her research has found that changing the external situation is more effective than cognitive strategies in achieving self control.  Perhaps one of the most conspicuous examples concern the company we keep.  Bad company can easily lead to bad behavior and bad consequences.  She related an anecdote of what she observed at a school.  An older student was counseling a younger student with respect to the gang the younger student was “hanging” with.  He warned the kid that he should change the company he was keeping.  He told the kid that when he was the age of the kid he hung out with the wrong crowd that led him to do bad things and suffer bad consequences.

She recommends students sit at the front of the class.  Doing so increases their attention to the subject matter and their engagement with the class.

She also requires that all students in her classes close their laptops.  She insists upon gaining their entire attention.  And she instructs her students to continue to close their laptops in their other classes if they want to excel.

She reported research using experience sampling data to describe the phenomenology  of academic compared to other daily pursuits.  She found that adolescents felt more productive during academic work, and yet, in these same moments were less happy, less confident, and less intrinsically motivated compared to other daily activities.

She reported an experiment with adults on the effect of self-distancing (taking an outsider’s perspective) to stimulate effort on a tedious, but beneficial academic task.  Relative to control, adults in the self-distancing condition persisted more on a math task despite tempting media distractions.

Although laypeople usually connote self-control with the effortful exertion of willpower in the immediate face of temptation, the most effective self-control strategies are actually the ones that preempt situations or temptations that interfered with goals, thereby eliminating the need to exert willpower.  She did a study in which students assigned to implement situation modification rather than straightforward willpower or no strategy at all better accomplished their academic goals.

She uses the term “grit” to refer to staying engaged and overcoming frustration, that is  frustration tolerance.  She assesses grit by measuring the time spent on a frustrating task.  Grit predicted Grade Point Average, standardized math and reading achievement scores above and beyond demographic characteristics, general intelligence, and task importance.  Thus, grit, frustration tolerance, is highly important to academic achievement.

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