Don’t Call Me Smart

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March 27, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

Growing up, I longed for people to view me as intelligent. I loved being associated with the adjective smart, and I, in turn, also complimented others’ intelligences freely. It wasn’t until later that I realized how damaging and invalidating that simple praise could be. When I was younger, I would try to take the hardest class of any subject I was remotely interested in, sacrifice time with friends and family to study and stay up late to get the grade I desired. I wanted people to instantly think of “smart” when they thought of me. As I got older, however, being called smart no longer made me feel accomplished, but rather seemed to degrade all my hard work and effort. Although it was meant as a compliment, “smart” became an excuse that described how I achieved my successes.
“Of course you got an A,” people said about my high school AP U.S. History class. “You’re smart.” With that sentence, they discredited all the nights that I only got four hours of sleep because I was studying. Instead, they attributed my grade to a single trait. Smart wasn’t just an excuse for my successes, but also became an attempted condolence when I failed. People would say “It’s okay; you’re smart” every time I became anxious or didn’t do well on tests. Though I would thank them out loud, the intended compliment was so easy to refute in my head.
Sometimes, I wouldn’t even try new things because I became too scared of ruining my intelligent image. I was scared that I would fail and people would realize that I was not solely genetically smart but had to work hard for my achievements. Academics came so easily for everyone else at Gunn — my high school in Palo Alto, where the acceptance rate to Stanford is 17.3 percent — and I was scared that I wouldn’t measure up.
Although I knew that my personal academic prowess came mostly from hard work, everyone else’s intelligence turned into inherent qualities. Grades became reflections of natural abilities and I valued end results rather than my learning process. I stopped enjoying school and started concentrating on getting the grades needed for a top-tier college. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I started experiencing mental breakdowns about not being able to live up to the pressure.
Following Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research on motivation and mindset, the difference between praise for effort and praise for ability is significant. People who are used to their abilities being praised usually experience lower task persistence and enjoyment. They also experience increased negative self-affect and self-cognition.
On the other hand, praise for effort increases task enjoyment and performance. The praised demonstrate greater persistence in face of failure. Improving is more plausible when intelligence is viewed as malleable rather than fixed.
I ended up achieving my goal of being viewed as “intelligent” but at the cost of my passion for knowledge and self-image. Being known as “smart” no longer flattered me, but rather added on to the pressure I felt.
Now, I much rather prefer acknowledgement of my effort to the simple, yet destructive, adjective “smart.”

Adapted from stanforddaily.

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This was an article on Psychology.

Have a great day.
Jack Westin
MCAT CARS Instructor.
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35 Comments


  1. being praised for ability rather than hard work can be destructive

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  2. Author shares personal story that illustrates the destructive influence of praise of ability versus praise of effort.

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  3. MI: intelligence = degrading + condolence for failure + hampers new experiences

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  4. wanted perception of intelligence + is bad + added pressure

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  5. Calling someone smart or intelligent has a negative consequences on them, because it disregards the efforts that they had to put into achieve certain goal. Also, it will decrease persistence and enjoyment of achieving that goal.

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  6. It is much more beneficial to focus on someone’s efforts and their qualities of persistence and hard work rather than attributing an end result to their inherent “ability” such as just being “smart.” The former is flexible and the latter is fixed which creates pressure and is ultimately limiting.

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  7. The author highlighted about being praised as smart turned into a hinderance later on for him. Being called “smart” did not account for his hard work.

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  8. MIP: smart =/= praise effort= praise ability (-) (Au), smart = destructive (Au)

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  9. Author liked people viewing him as intelligent since he was young. He realized that being perceived as intelligent was detrimental to his self-worth in his later years. / People could not see the amount of effort he had invested in securing his success. / Author became too self-conscious and was afraid to fail for fear of losing respect. / Author became concerned about his results rather than his learning process and started succumbing to peer pressure. / Praise for effort allows one to enjoy the task and this leads to more resilience during setbacks which is more desirable compared to praise for ability which does not encourage improvement. / Author acknowledges that being praised caused him his passion for knowledge and he would rather be recognized for his effort than experience the undue pressure.

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  10. MI: Being called smart “praise for ability” can lead to unnecessary pressures of conforming. It is destructive to self image. However acknowledgement of hard work “praise for effort” leads to task enjoyment.
    Tone: Somewhat argumentative but does not enough show data to back up his point. He is his only data source.

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  11. smart = pressure + discredit effort + damaging; effort acknowledgement = increased enjoyment and performance

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  12. Praise for ability = lower task persistence and enjoyment. Example: the author’s perception of being “smart”= destructive.

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  13. MIP: Being smart = all credit or blame; Au didn’t like being smart
    Tone: Neg (about being “smart”)

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  14. Smart = praise for ability = viewed as excuse for success + cause pressure + create resistance to try = bad

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  15. The drive for being seen as “smart” prevented others to acknowledge his efforts and gave him lots of pressure

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  16. Being viewed as smart added pressure and was more damaging than good.

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  17. Smart = discredits hard work + pressure. Auth doesn’t like being called smart

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  18. MIP: Being called smart discredits hard work, adds pressure. Study done at Stanford to validate this conclusion.

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  19. Smart label= negative attributes (decreases HW and effort credit). AT= negative toward the smart label

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  20. MIP: praise not assoc with effort but nat ability=bad
    tone: – for nat smart

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  21. being viewed as “smart”= bad connotation w/ word
    Praise effort= good
    praise ability=bad

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  22. “smart”= bad
    effort praise>ability

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  23. Being praised and called smart for ability is destructive

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  24. Achieving success for the sole reason of being called smart costs you a lot of things.

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  25. author= doesn’t like being called smart+ rather be praised for efforts
    smart= restrictive+ undermines actual effort

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  26. smart= bad; intelligence = good + effort

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  27. MIP: smart = damaging phrase (AU); smart is > 1 trait (AU); wants effort acknowledged (AU)

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  28. A lot of pressures come along with the tag smart. The motivations pertaining there to are equally important. Praise for effort is more constructive, emotionally, than praise for performance.

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  29. praise the effort > praise the inherited ability

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  30. Longing for intelligence causes one to value grades over the learning process; smart becomes an excuse for success leading to fear of ruining the “smart” image

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  31. MIP: smart = degrading + effort = more important; tone = negative towards “smart”

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  32. This passages discusses the experience of a student who once desired to be recognized as “smart”. However, the student soon realized that the label came at a cost of passion and knowledge.
    Ultimately, the student realized that it was preferable to be known for the effort given to have accomplishments, rather than a fixed state, such as being “smart”.

    Reply

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