Is Genius Innate?

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There was a famous study in the sixties by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, known in most circles as The Pygmalion Effect. Certain students with normal IQs were identified to teachers as having higher-than-normal IQs – referred to as “spurters” – and could be expected to do better that year than their peers.

Not only did the mean IQ of the entire group improve at the end of the year, but the students identified as “spurters” showed statistically significant gains. In other words, children rise to the expectations we set for them.

A belief that “I am not good at math” is self-propagating. A not-good-at-math person assumes his math incompetencies limit his ability to succeed in math, thereby avoiding opportunities to learn math and improve his math skills, further eroding his math skills.

The belief that you are not a “math person” is a greater determinant of mathematics competence than some innate gift, or lack thereof.

Intelligence research identifies two distinctive orientations toward intelligence. Incremental orientation says that intelligence is acquired incrementally with increased effort. Entity orientation says that one is born with a fixed amount of intelligence that does not increase with effort. If you believe on the whole that intelligence is something you’re born with, as opposed to something that can be acquired, you absolve yourself of the responsibility to improve your skills.

And it’s an issue somewhat unique to our American individualistic ideals. Noted Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the guru of the “Growth Mindset,” has devoted the bulk of her career researching, writing and lecturing on how to develop a “Growth Mindset,” the belief that intelligence is acquired, not something you’re born with.

In the 2007 Stanford Alumni magazine article “Effort Effect,” Dweck explains how other cultures do not luxuriate in the limiting beliefs of fixed mindsets. A college physics —> Read More

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