- The power of positive thinking might sound like a trite approach to life, but researchers at Stanford University have found that a cheery attitude toward schoolwork can improve academic performance, according to an Inc. article on the study.
- The researchers looked at the math skills of 240 elementary school students and also conducted brain scans for 47 of them. They found that in those who had a more positive attitude toward math, the hippocampus part of the brain — which is associated with learning and memory — was more active.
- The scientists suggest, in fact, that positivity is at least as important as IQ in math achievement.
Much of the attention toward student achievement in recent years has focused on grit and perseverance, leaving the impression that students who do well fight through assignments and material that they dread and dislike in order to earn the reward of a good grade. This study, however, suggests that helping students find joy in what they’re doing might also be an important instructional strategy, whether that’s through game-based learning, cooperation with a partner or linking lessons to topics or activities that students have already expressed that they enjoy.
Self-confidence, self-efficacy and stress management are among the social-emotional competencies that schools are increasingly focusing on in the classroom. These skills can help students approach schoolwork without fear of failure or see a poor grade as a small setback on a long journey.
“Typically, we focus on skill learning in individual academic domains, but our new work suggests that looking at children’s beliefs about a subject and their self-perceived abilities might provide another inroad to maximizing learning,” Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said in a press release.
On the subject of math, the researchers also suggest that teachers’ positive attitudes toward the subject can help inspire students to also see themselves as capable learners.