Popular science prodigy Jonah Lehrer—
who is always teaching us new things on his Wired
about learning itself in his latest column. Specifically, Lehrer focuses on the ways your brain reacts to and learns from your mistakes. Technically speaking, there are two signals that your brain sends out following an error, and the size of the spark relates directly to your ability to become a better learner. So, those with a desire to learn from mistakes have stronger reaction signals, bigger sparks. Lehrer also concludes that if you want to praise a friend, tell them they worked hard to deserve what they achieved, not that they're inherently good at all the things they do.
The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence — the “smart” compliment — is that it misrepresents the psychological reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is when we learn from our mistakes. Because unless we experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong. . . the mind will never revise its models.