Thursday, May 2, 2013
Change to change
The more we believe we can change, the more we will change for the better. This is the simple but profound statement that empirical research is showing to be true. The more that we view ourselves and others as “works in progress” rather than “finished products”, the more we will treat each other with more respect or at least cut ourselves and others more slack. This research has profound implications not just for bullying prevention but also for all education.
The research that is demonstrating this truth is an outgrowth of the work that Carol Dweck has done with the concept of mindset. Students who believe that their success is attributable to their effort, i.e. encountering difficulty and struggling only strengthens them as learners, actually learn more than students who view their success as attributable to their innate ability. Daniel Yeager and colleagues are doing this new line of research. I urge everyone to check out his work. Not only is it fascinating, but it also points the field of education in a new and very promising direction. It hold the potential for practical interventions that can get bullying prevention unstuck and untied from the many NOTS that it currently finds itself.
In the article, An Implicit Theories of Personality Intervention Reduces Adolescent Aggression in Response to Victimization and Exclusion by Yeager, Trzesniewski, and Dweck ( Child Development, 2012)
they present researching findings on the positive changes that occurred with adolescents when they were given a serious of lessons teaching them the malleability of the human brain and how people can and do change with changes in their environment.
Here are some of the keys points made in the article:
Adolescents are more likely than younger children to believe that people can’t change –this is referred to as an entity theory of personality-similar to the fixed mindset in Dweck work.
They hypothesize that this type of implicit theory (entity) is an explanation for why certain treatments or social/emotional skills training are less likely to result in significant changes in adolescent behavior towards peers.
They also suggest that feelings of depression are associated with the belief in the entity theory of personality. If people are think that they can’t change they are more likely to become depressed.
This research focused on students who could be considered bully/victims who would seek to get revenge either on those who bullied them or would find others to bully.
The experimental group was given a series of lessons that taught an incremental theory of personality-that people have the potential and capacity for change. They were also exposed to examples of people who demonstrated this capacity for change.
The students taught about the incremental theory were told that changing personality is not easy and can take a long time. Changing requires a great deal of help but is always possible. They were told about various mechanisms of change: maturity, motivation, situations, new experiences, learning from mistakes etc. This learning and changing actually reorganized people’s brains. They were given actual testimonials from students who did change.
At the end of this series of lessons, the students trained in incremental theory were asked to write letters to incoming ninth graders advising them on how to respond to bullying without seeking revenge.
Some sessions also told stories about famous people who encountered and overcame social rejection.
There was another control group given a similar number of training sessions that the incremental group but the content of the sessions were about coping skills. There was also a third group with no treatment given.
The results showed that the group taught the incremental theory were significantly less aggressive, more pro social, showed fewer conduct problems and were absent less from school than the other groups.
The researchers point out in the article that many adults have entity theory/fixed mindset towards adolescents-that they aren’t likely to change. Adults can make the entity/fixed mindset in adolescents become more set and less likely to change leading to more aggressive and inappropriate behavior.
The more schools use a legal approach to bullying prevention and view the problem as being the “student transgressors” rather than the circumstances/environment of the school culture and climate, the more the problem of bullying will just fester. If schools believed in “change” not just as possibility but also as a reality (or as I stated in previous posts – acted on the Y assumption not the x assumption), then the students would be follow and act on what is truly in their hearts and experience the intrinsic joys that are possible with being a member of a caring community of people. The adults would also like being in that type of environment. The first step is believing it is possible. Imagine!