– 59 Seconds Think a little, change a lot –

book cover 59+SecondsThis book takes a look at a number of commonly held beliefs, especially from the self-improvement industry. Professor Wiseman then examines them with the aid of scientific tests to see if they are true or false.

He examines things that are important to us: happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction. He breaks down each topic into what is commonly believed, and whether tests prove the beliefs to be true or false. In one example, he carried out tests with charity boxes on display in bookstores. All the boxes asked for donations for a charity, but each one carried a different message.

Please give generously

Every penny helps

Every pound helps

You can make a difference.

Surprisingly Every Penny Helps worked best collecting 62% of all the money. Every pound (100 pennies) came last with 17% of the collection. It is thought that putting a small amount into the Pound box, looked mean, cheap, or insulting; whereas putting a small amount into the Penny Box, was fine. It was also revealed that a red painted box got a lot more donations than other colors.

Maybe you are not going to be collecting money, but you will certainly be involved in some of the other beliefs he tests. All of the information comes from experiments, not hearsay or common sense.

Another example he gave was reducing stress and anger. It is commonly believed that kicking, screaming, punching a bag or a pillow–these sort of activities–reduce stress and anger. Not so, in an experiment with 600 students, it was clearly shown that those activities increased anger. Don’t be alarmed if this is your favorite tactic–he gives some methods that do work.

The book covers many practical topics: dating (where to go), job interviews (what to say), procrastination (how to work around it), creativity (how to boost it). The advice is all simple, tactics that can be understood in less than a minute (:59 Seconds).

I found the most interesting part was the Parenting Section. The first test was the well-know belief that playing Mozart to babies will improve their intelligence. There is no convincing evidence that anything of the kind happens. But there is good evidence that teaching children to play a keyboard instrument (perhaps any musical instrument) shows a clear improvement in IQ.

I thought the most important revelation was this: the belief that you can build a child’s self-esteem by constantly giving compliments, or praise. Isn’t this what we have been told for the past 30 years? Praise a kid who wins a race. Praise a kid who does well in a test. But it all depends on what praise you use.

The research showed that telling a child they are intelligent, talented, or clever is not a good thing to do. The experiments involved 400 children between 10 – 12 years. They were divided into three groups, all were given the same test. Every child was told they had done well on the test with 80% correct, but one third of the children were also told they must be exceptionally clever to get so many correct answers.

In the next part of the test, they were all told there were two different tasks, the first task would be difficult, they might fail, but they would learn from it. The other task was easy, but they would not learn from it.

Sixty-five percent of the kids who were told they were clever chose the easier task, yet only 45% of those who were not labeled as intelligent chose the easier task. It gets worse; those who were told they were intelligent found the puzzles less enjoyable, and were less likely to work on them in their own time.

In the final part of the study, all the children were given a test similar to the first one, the “intelligent” children got far lower scores, even though the groups were equal to start with.

Telling a child they are intelligent, can induce a fear of failing because it is something they have no control over. And if they really are clever, then they need not put in much effort. If they do get a low mark, their motivation could collapse–because they now think they were not as intelligent as they believed. And what can they do about it?

But there is a happy outcome. The third group tested were praised not for cleverness, but for effort, being told they must have worked hard to get such a good result. These kids went on to easily out-perform all the others. They were encouraged to try regardless of consequences, unafraid of failing. If they did fail, they could put it down to not trying hard enough, so there was something they could do about it. Praising effort encourages the child to work hard and to persist. Praising natural ability, is a bit like praising good luck, it cannot be controlled.

There are plenty of good ideas and advice in this book. It is certainly one of the more useful books. A pity it was not more widely known!

 Marcus Clark


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