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Showing posts from 2017

The motivation continuum: self-determination theory in one picture

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Elements from self-determination theory are somewhat known to many people. Particularly, the terms intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are familiar to many people. Also reasonably well-known are the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Recently someone said to me: "I have heard of several elements of the theory but I find it hard to get a good overview of the it." If you feel the same, the picture below may be useful for you. It is my most recent version of the so-called motivation-continuum. There are many version of this model in circulation and they are all variations on and extension of the original version by Ryan & Deci (2000) . In the picture below I show which types of motivation emerge in which contexts, and what their effects are on our behaviors, emotions, and performance (click to enlarge).

Carol Dweck's new theory on the foundations of personality

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Carol Dweck, founder of mindset theory, has written an ambitious new paper in Psychological Review . In this paper, she presents a new theory about how personality is formed and how both nature and nurture play a role in this. The interesting thing about this theory is that it both establishes connections between old and new theories within psychology and that is brings together separate psychological disciplines. Social psychologists have often been criticized for paying too little attention to theory building and for merely developing fragmentary knowledge. Dweck now comes up with a strong answer to these criticisms in the form of a broad theory which may turn out to explain a broad range of psychological phenomena. This type of theorizing is not only important for social scientists but also for practitioners for whom psychological knowledge is relevant (and who is really excluded from this group?). Good theory can help practitioners deal with problems in more informed, systematic

Is there a good case for 'positive education'?

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In this post I expressed my skepticism about something which is called Positive education , an approach advocated by Martin Seligman (photo). What that is, is explained in this video which I also mentioned. My two reasons for being skeptical were 1) that I found the definitions of positive education as mentioned in the video confusing rather than clarifying, and 2) that it is not clear to me to what extent well-being should be an outcome measure in education ( read the post for more details on that point).

The punitive versus the empathetic mindset

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Some time ago, I heard about a situation in which a student behaved disruptively in class. I will repeat here, from memory, what happened. The teacher asked the student if he would calmly join the lesson and pay attention. The student did not directly reply and went on with his disruptive behavior. Then some other students started making comments like: "Just send him to the hall, miss." The teacher replied: "No, I will not send him to the hall", to which the students said: "Why not? He is behaving very badly." The teacher replied: "If I send students to the hall, they will not learn how to behave appropriately in the classroom. That is why I won't do that." Then she repeated here question to the student to calmly pay attention to the lesson which he then started to do without complaining. This approach seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn't you just be tough to students behaving badly? Maybe not. A new paper provides some insight into what

The spillover effect and the crucial role of basic needs

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Research has shown a correlation exists between how satisfied people are with their job and how satisfied they are with their life. But there are two uncertainties about the relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. First, it is unknown whether this effect primarily happens in the Western world; this is where most of this research has taken place. Second, it is unknown whether there is a causal relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction because most research is correlational. Third, there is no clear explanation for the relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. A new paper provides more clarity in all these questions.

Where does meaning in life come from?

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In earlier times the question of how to lead meaningful life was simply answered by referring to the bible (or another religious text, depending on when and where you were born). But for an increasing number of people religious dogma is no longer a satisfying answer to the question what a meaningful life means. Nowadays it has become a common wisdom that we should discover or create meaning in life ourselves. This raises two questions: how important is a sense of having meaning in life anyway, and -if it is important - how can we find or create it?

The learning and performing model

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After I wrote this post I talked to several people about the importance of making the distinction between learning and performing. Most people I talked to found this distinction interesting and valuable and were interested in the three phases I mention: the preparation phase, the execution phase, and the reflection phase. Generally, people found these stages useful and they said they would like to pay more attention to preparation and reflection.

Why do we bounce back from failure better when we have a growth mindset?

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We know that we generally bounce back from failure better when we have a growth mindset than when we have a fixed mindset (Dweck, 1999). This has to do with the fact that we interpret failing differently in different mindsets and because of that we also feel and behave differently. In a growth mindset we view failure as a consequence of not having put in enough effort or not having used an effective strategy ( read more ).

The effects of envy and admiration

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You meet someone who is obviously better at something than you are. What do you feel? Do you admire the person? Do you feel envy? What are the effects of these different emotions? Below you can first read about social comparison theory, which has something useful to say about these phenomena. Then, I mention new research by Niels van de Ven about the effects of these different emotions.

The growth mindset and intrinsic motivation contribute independently to persistence

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One way to describe what the progress-focused approach means is captured in a model which I introduced in my book Kiezen voor progressie . The model (see figure right) describes how both a growth mindset and autonomous motivation contribute to effective effort and how effort in turn creates progress. In this post you read more about this model and it may be used. Looking at this model you might wonder if there should also be an arrow between the growth mindset and autonomous motivation. Do these two influence each other, too? I have thought this before and several people have asked me about it. As far as I know it has been studied only once.

How does grading affect motivation?

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Research guided by self-determination theory has shown that factors like punishment, rewards, threats, coercion, and competition can undermine the quality of motivation of individuals. When those factors are applied the autonomous motivation of individuals, which consists of intrinsic motivation and internalized motivation, can be diminished ( read more about autonomous motivation). In such circumstances a more controlled motivation can emerge which generally comes with anxiety, tension, and worse performance. One factor which also can harm autonomous motivation is grading performance in schools. A new study by Krijgsman et al. (2017) explores the relationship between performance grading and students motivation in physical education (N=409).

The Emerging Neuroscience of Intrinsic Motivation

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A new paper by Di Domenico & Ryan (2017) describes how a neuroscience of intrinsic motivation is emerging. Intrinsic motivation is the total of our spontaneous tendencies to be curious and interested, to seek challenges, and practice to develop our skills and knowledge even in the absence of separate rewards. Research within the framework of self-determination theory has shown that intrinsic motivation is a motivation which is present throughout the life span and which is associated with various positive effects such as learning, performing, creativity, and well-being. But intrinsic motivation is dependent on the perception of one's own competence and autonomy. If these two basic needs are thwarted, we tend to be less intrinsically motivated.

The problem with twin studies

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Over roughly the last 100 years there has been a debate within the social sciences about the question how large the influence of genes and environments are on human abilities, traits, behaviors, and psychiatric and medical problems. This debate is often referred to as the nature versus nurture debate. It is not only held within the scientific community but also in popular media and by lay people. A central role in these debates is played by the so-called twin studies. Often these studies are viewed as compelling natural experiments which demonstrate the separate influence of genes and environmental factors. And they are often cited as evidence of the large influence of genes on personal characteristics such as intelligence and personality traits. But there is a growing criticism of the validity of these conclusions because there are many problems in those twin studies. A recent book by Joseph (2015) explains in detail what the many problems in twin studies are.

Checklist: 7 questions to support your professional development

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What role does experience play in our professional development? We often think that how long people have been doing something determines how good they are at it. Of course, that thought can't be completely wrong. We can't say that there is no relationship at all between how long you have been doing something and how good you are at it. Someone who has been playing the piano for just a few weeks can't be very good at it yet. Learning the basic skills requires a certain time. But the relation between how long we have been doing something and how good we are at it is different than we often assume. Take as an example driving a car. When both my sons were doing their driving lessons, these last few years, they could precisely point out to me the many little mistakes I made while driving. I have been doing it for 35 years and thought I was reasonably good at it. But because of the many small reprimands by my sons, I have come to realize that many little mistakes have crept int

How teachers can combine autonomy-support with structure

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Autonomy support is effective in parenting, in teaching, and in leadership at work. Some incorrectly think that a remark like this should be read as a plea for 'anything goes'. Autonomy support does not mean that no structure is offered. Autonomy support and structure go hand in hand. Offering structure strengthens the perception of autonomy and is even often a prerequisite for it. I elaborate this thought using the context of education as an example.

4 Surprising facts about epigenetics

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Some time ago, I wrote about a book by David Moore on epigenetics , a field in biology which now changes our understanding of the influence of genes. Epigenetics, briefly, means that, under the influence of the environment, certain molecules attach themselves to our chromosomes thereby affecting how our DNA functions and how we develop. While there are important developments in epigenetics, both laypeople and biologists remain skeptical about its significance. Based on the book by Moore, I explain below why I think that is wrong.

How autonomy-support predicts the development of performance

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Previous research points at positive effects of autonomy support in different contexts such as parenting, education, and work. Usually, in studies into its effects in the workplace, static measures of performance are used. (for example Gagne & Deci, 2005). This means that a measurement of performance is done at one point in time which is used as a criterion measure. Researchers Kanat-Maymon & Reizer (2017) followed a different approach. They tracked performance of newly employed soccer analysts (N=68) over a period of 5 months.

Do you see both achieved progress and further needed progress?

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To which degree and how we focus our attention on progress has important consequences for how feel and behave. There are several types of mistakes we can make in how pay attention to progress. Below I describe three mostly ineffective ways of looking at progress and one effective way. For this purpose I use a 2x2 model which is structured around two questions. The first question is: do you have a clear view on achieved progress? The second question is: do you have a view on what further progress needs to be made? These two questions are equally important. Perceiving achieved progress makes us more optimistic and helps us understand what has worked so far. Perceiving which further progress needs to be made gives us a perspective and something which we can usefully focus our energy on. The 2x2 model shows four quadrants each of which represents a way of focusing on progress.

Democratic rights are like muscles: use them or lose them

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Today the general elections are being held in the Netherlands. Here is why I will vote. What is democracy? What are the essential features of a democracy and why are they important? What are the essential differences between democracies and non-democracies and why do these differences matter? How important are democratic rights and how important is it to use them? I answer these questions below.

Is the feeling that you are competent always an indication of incompetence?

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In this article I mentioned the following quote by Charles Darwin: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." I agreed with this and offered the Dunning-Kruger effect as an explanation of the phenomenon. This explanation, briefly, is that it takes competence to more or less reliably assess one's own competence. People with low competence in a certain area do not realize how low their competence is. In another article I mentioned that incompetence can even go hand in hand with arrogance while competence can go hand in hand with modesty. Of course, the Dunning-Kruger effect is not only applicable to other people but also to ourselves. David Dunning (photo), one of the pioneering researcher into the effect, said the following:

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and goals

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The terms intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are frequently used and are sometimes a source of confusion. Below, I try to share my understanding of these term as they are used in self-determination theory (SDT). First, I'll explain what the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is and  then what the terms intrinsic and extrinsic goals mean.

Mindset also affects social development

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In a new paper David Yeager (2017) explores the possible relation between mindset and problem behavior of adolescents. He describes how, in reaction to social problems such as being bullied or excluded, a fixed mindset (the belief that people cannot change) may lead to self-blame and other-blame and also may predict more extreme affective, physiological, and behavioral responses such as depression and aggression.

How the Dunning-Kruger effect can block progress

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A brief way of explaining the Dunning-Kruger effect is that it takes competence to recognize incompetence. A consequence of this is that people who are relatively incompetent are less able to recognize their own incompetence. Kruger & Dunning (1999) and Dunning et al. (2003) showed that in incompetent people there is often a self-overestimation effect: people with low performance tend to overestimate their own performance. The lower the performance, the higher the self-overestimation tends to be. The higher the performance the less people tend to overestimate themselves. The very highest performing people even tend to underestimate themselves. This phenomenon creates the painful situation that those who perform the lowest tend to underestimate their need for development the most. A new study by Pennycook et al. (2017) adds new depth to these previous findings.

Three basic needs: always operative even when we don't realize it

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We use the word 'need' broadly in daily life. It can refer to anything we desire for or think we need or prefer, at any time. In psychology, in particular within self-determination theory (SDT), it has a much more specific meaning. SDT speaks of universal basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness ( read more ). The word 'need' in SDT refers to something that is a requirement for good and healthy functioning.

6 Evidence based learning strategies

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In a previous post I mentioned 3 Dimensions of studying effectively . One of those three dimensions is using effective learning strategies. All over the internet lists of effective studying can be found and I, too, have written several times about this topic (for example, see the above-mentioned post). Now, I have come across an interesting post by Megan Smith en Yana Weinstein in which they describe 6 evidence based strategies for learning some of which are relatively unknown both among teachers and students. Here are those 6 learning strategies:

Study: the effects of autonomy support by managers

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In two Chinese government schools some central ideas from self-determination theory were tested ( Nie et al., 2017 ). What was specifically tested were the effects of perceived autonomy support by managers on the motivation of employees (266 teachers) and on several output criteria (job satisfaction, work stress, and illness symptoms). The expectation based on previous research were that perceived autonomy support (1) would predict more autonomous motivation (versus controlled motivation, and (2) more job satisfaction, with less work stress, and less illness symptoms. The figure below summarizes the findings of the study.

Self-determination theory in organizations

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In a new article Deci et al. (2017) give an overview of research within self-determination theory which is relevant for work and organizations. Among other things, they describe the important distinction between autonomous and controlled motivation (see more about this distinction) and the three basic psychological need (for competence, autonomy, and relatedness). The article reviews much research with as central theme that autonomous motivation (vs controlled motivation) is associated with both performance and wellness. Also, the show that the key to fostering autonomous motivation is to create workplaces which contribute to the satisfaction of the above mentioned basic needs. The picture below summarizes these points:

Why is controlled regulation so prevalent?

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A training participant asked me recently: "Why is controlled regulation so popular when it is clear that an autonomy supportive way of working is so much more effective?" I'll try to answer this question below. Before I do, let me give you a brief summary of what controlled regulation and autonomy support mean. Much research into self-determination theory has shown that autonomous motivation has many advantages over controlled motivation. An autonomy-supportive way of parenting, teaching, coaching, or managing works much better than a controlled approach. The figure below (a translation from a picture from my Dutch book Kiezen voor progressie (2016) summarizes the differences between autonomous and controlled motivation and their different effects:

The instability and malleability of personality

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When I was educated as a psychologist, in the 1980's, the dominant way of thinking in psychology tended to what we would now call a fixed mindset . Roughly, as students, we were taught that both intelligence and personality are hardly malleable from a certain age on (say, 18). Personality was roughly defined as the whole of stable behavioral tendencies of individuals. It was thought that individual differences in personality were relatively stable and also meaningful, for example for how we should make career choices.

How to remove a US president?

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Two steps: 1) impeachment (=formal statement of charges), 2) removal after conviction via legislative vote. When has involuntary removal of a US president happened? It has NEVER happened in US history. When has impeachment happened? Nearly never. Up till now, only two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both could finish their terms as president. Two others were almost impeached: Richard Nixon (resigned before he (probably) would be removed) and John Tyler.

The Status Quo Bias: Barrier to Progress

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If we define progress as development in the direction of a better situation then from this definition it follows that progress is something good. Much research has suggested that the feeling of making progress is good for us in various ways. Roughly it can be said that the perception of progress is associated with more positive emotions, more motivation, and better performance. You would say that choosing progress is always easy. But it isn't. 

Carol Dweck on the Foundation of Mindset

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Growth mindset is on a firm foundation, but we’re still building the house ~ Carol Dweck, January 18, 2017 In science, we build a firm foundation and then we keep renovating the house. We find interesting results, we are fascinated by them, we don’t always trust them, so we go back and replicate them. We also challenge them by asking, where will this not work? When does the effect go away? How can we use better methods to test our theories? As part of this process, scientists ask each other questions. Recently, other scientists asked us some questions about three of our papers. We took this very seriously, carefully considered each inquiry, delved into the studies again (in some cases reanalyzing the data), and prepared three documents, each detailing our process and our findings (here, here, and here). In each case, we showed that the conclusions reached in the paper were sound. But, as with anything that helps make science better, we were grateful for the questions because the

Don't write off mindset theory yet

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In my previous post I mentioned recent criticism of research into mindset. As I wrote in that post I view it as a good thing that the concept of mindset is criticized. For knowledge to develop anything can and should be criticized. Part of the criticism doesn't convince me, and part of it I find interesting and seems justified (for example some of the points made by Brown and Bates). The article on Buzzfeed which I mentioned contains interesting points but is also a bit one-sided. The impression is given that mindset theory is based only on a few studies and that theses studies' findings are questionable.

Criticisms of mindset research

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The replication crisis within psychology has been rather big news over the last few years ( read more ). Findings of well-known psychologists about topics like willpower/ego depletion , powerposes , priming , and facial feedback have been scrutinized and to some extent debunked. Recently, criticism has also emerged of the research into mindsets by Carol Dweck and her colleagues. I have written a lot about mindset and I think it is a valuable and useful concept. But, as I write here :

10 Questions to help you fulfill your basic needs

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Self-determination theory distinguishes three universal basic psychological needs, the need for autonomy, for competence, and for relatedness. The fulfillment of these needs is necessary for us to feel well and function well. The need for autonomy refers to the experience of being able to make your own choices and to stand behind what you are doing. The need for competence refers to the experience of being effective and capable of achieving desired outcomes. The need for relatedness refers to the experience of a mutual connection with and care for important people your life. Recent research by González-Cutre et al. (2016 ) indicates there may be a fourth basic need: the need for novelty, the need to keep on experiencing new things which deviate from your daily routine.

Motivated reasoning

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Have you ever noticed that people sometimes argue in ways which seem do not seem to correspond to reality but which, instead, only seem to serve their own interests? You probably have. Psychologist refer to this phenomenon as motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning is reasoning in such ways that your own beliefs, interests, behaviors, and goals are served. It is not something which only some people do. We all do it, sometimes consciously, often unconsciously.

Naive realism: undetected cause of many conflicts

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All of us experience reality in a distorted way and we are mostly unaware of that this happens and how this happens. Here is a list of well-known human biases. On this list is a bias called naive realism. This bias plays a special role. It can be seen as the mother of all biases. Naive realism, a term coined by Lee Ross, is the wrong belief that reality is just like we experience it. In other words, it is the cognitive mechanism which blinds us to the many biases we fall prey to.

Comparative advantage: why capitalisme is not inherently bad

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Someone asked me, some time ago, why I do not see capitalism in its core as something bad but as something good ( see here ). This person argued, in brief, that capitalism is the cause of much misery in the world, such as poverty, corruption, and the subversion of democracy. Moreover, this person said, capitalism is inherently bad because it is always a matter of exploitation. If two parties trade with each other and one of the parties makes a profit, that profit has to come from somewhere. This then must mean that the other party is exploited, in other words, must make a loss. 

The fundamental attribution error: the underestimation of the power of the situation

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Richard Nisbett, who I have mentioned here before , has written a brief but interesting article about the fundamental attribution error.Together with Lee Ross, he once wrote a classical book about this, The Person and the Situation . The fundamental attribution error means that we systematically underestimate the influence of situations, structures, and systems on our behavior en systematically overestimate the influence of personal traits and dispositions on our behavior. As Nisbett says it: we are, wrongly, inclined to think about human behavior in purely dispositional terms.

The social contagiousness of mindsets

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All of us are constantly exposed to all kinds of stimuli from our environment which affect how we feel and how we think about ourselves and about the world. An example of how we are affected is our mindset. Some events, remarks, and expectations that come our way evoke a fixed mindset in us while others evoke a growth mindset. The prime example of this is the differential effect of different types of praise.

Moment of spontaneous progress

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Sometimes you don't expect progress but it still happens. These are interesting moments which are useful to analyze.

8 Growth mindset interventions

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Many of the participants in our training programs are especially interested in Carol Dweck's research into mindsets . They see the relevance of mindset and realize that a fixed mindset has many disadvantages while a growth mindset has many advantages. They are interested in learning how they can influence their own mindset and that of other people. Many of them are aware that person praise can evoke a fixed mindset and process praise can evoke a growth mindset. But they look for other way to influence mindsets. Here are several other ways.