Thursday, April 19, 2007

Little Bright Lies

Staffan A. Svensson headhshot by Staffan A. Svensson

An article I read recently claimed that "research on how junior high school students' beliefs about intelligence affect their math grades found that those who believed that intelligence can be developed performed better than those who believed intelligence is fixed"[1]. This result provides an example of a choice that many people face every day: do we teach what is beneficial or what is more true if these two contradict each other?

I'm not talking about taking it to extremes as in telling someone they are dying to teach them to value life, or the tyrannical ruler kind of "people don't know what's best for them"-attitude. I'm talking about examples like the one above, or telling a teacher that the students are above average in intelligence (which also tend to raise scores[2]), or exaggerate just how bad smoking and eating junk food really is. Or telling someone you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.

Sure, sometimes it just comes down to what is called little white lies, like telling someone they look good to make them happy. But I believe my opening example illustrates something more than that; it is choosing to deceive for that persons own good. And there's the rub, because somewhere in there hides a more or less personal, and more or less distinct, line between what is acceptable and what is not, between what is justifiable and what is not.

Personally, I would prefer to be fooled with regard to the world being fundamentally a nice place even if it actually is not, and I intend on making that happen.


[1] online article "Students who believe intelligence can be developed perform better".

[2] Rosenthal, R. (1998) Covert Communication in Classrooms, Clinics, and Courtrooms. Eye on Psi Chi. Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 18-22.

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