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English Speaking Training: The Fragile Nature of Intelligence

English Speaking Training:  The Fragile Nature of Intelligence


I’ve felt it. You have probably felt it, too. You feel especially smart and funny when talking to one person and then feel unintelligent and unable to speak fluently with another.

It’s not your imagination.  Experiments show that when people report feeling comfortable with a conversational partner, they are rated by those partners and observers as indeed  being more witty.

This is as example  of the powerful effect that social factors can have on thinking , acting, and performing skills.

Psychologists Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele  identified the phenomenon of “stereotype threat.”  Members of groups believed to be academically inferior – female students in math and science classes, or African-American and Latino students enrolled in college – score much lower on tests when reminded beforehand of their gender or race.

Steele and Aronson’s experiments in the 1990s and dozens of other studies concluded that  the performance of students suffered because they were worried about confirming negative stereotypes about their group.

Minorities aren’t the only ones vulnerable to stereotype threat. A group of people  confident about their mathematical skills – white male math and engineering majors who obtained high scores on the SAT math portion – did worse on a math test when told the experiment was intended to discover “why Asians appear to outperform other students on tests of math ability.”

The take home lesson: we should all foster techniques for reducing anxiety and building self-confidence.  We should focus on making our social environments full of warmth and trust, not competition and exclusion.  We should nurture the self confidence in others to be the best version of themselves… and they will be.

Next time: How overlearning  makes you not just a star but a brilliant star

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