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Growth mindset benefits carry into old age

February 3, 2012

Here’s a very interesting article that hit the NYT Sunday magazine a little while ago, and I just got around to reading in Instapaper.

A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond

A few quotes:

One essential element of mental fitness has already been identified. “Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life,” says Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who specializes in aging. For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school.

Still, when Dr. Lachman and Dr. Tun reviewed the results, they were surprised to discover that into middle age and beyond, people could make up for educational disadvantages encountered earlier in life. Everyone in the study who regularly did more to challenge their brains — reading, writing, attending lectures or completing word puzzles — did better on fluid intelligence tests than their counterparts who did less.

And those with the fewest years of schooling showed the largest benefits. Middle-age subjects who had left school early but began working on keeping their minds sharp had substantially better memory and faster calculating skills than those who did not. They responded as well as people up to 10 years younger. In fact, their scores were comparable to college graduates.

When young adults think about college, they think about career opportunities and possibly the social benefits. What they don’t realize is college education has long-term benefits well beyond first job and social contacts.” The same could be said for continuing education.

This is a great long read, and it again points me to the idea that the fixed/growth mindset framework carries far beyond limited “do better in school” confines I’d placed it in. Our abilities, are far more malleable that was once believed, or we are often told.

So if it’s true that believing one’s abilities are not fixed, and that practice and hard work yield such tremendous improvements—in cognitive ability, in willpower, in reducing racial prejudice and now in reducing mental decline in old age—I once again wonder why these lessons get so little attention in many schools, and too often, fixed mindset thinking is is reinforced with achievement oriented praise, rigid tracking and ability grouping.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2012 3:48 am

    As an aside: exercise (aerobic, cardiovascular) increases brain volume and stimulates the same areas of the brain as mental challenges do (I believe its the autonomic systems and frontal cortex). Both actively reducing mental decline with age.

    And terribly impressed with your continued ability to blog during this six-weeks; the only thing I don’t miss about the competition are the late nights and no weekends.

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