At some point during your childhood, your parents likely praised you for your talents or intelligence. This compliment, while rooted in the positive goal of promoting confidence, is being called into question by a few recent studies.
One study, published in Psychological Science, analyzed the effects of calling children smart, while another, conducted by psychologist Carol Dweck while she was at Columbia, studied the effect of praise on students. Both ultimately found that labeling children as "smart" may make them reluctant to put effort into subject areas they aren't naturally good at. Rather, they're more likely to pursue a subject they've been praised as being good at.
In the first study, researchers analyzed the effects of praise on 300 children between the ages of 3 and 5. Participants were divided into three groups where they played a game led by an adult. In one group, kids were told, "you are so smart." In another, kids were told, "you did very well this time." In the third group, the adult did not give the children any praise for playing the game.
The results showed that when the kids were left alone following the game and asked not to cheat, the "smart" group cheated significantly more than the other two groups. In other words, the way children are complimented can affect their actions and even prompt them to do whatever it takes to keep up the appearance of being smart.
New York Magazine analyzed a similar study a few years back that tested the difference between praising a child on their smarts versus their efforts. The study found that kids who believed they were smart did not feel the need to put effort into the subjects they excelled at. This explains why many people (adults included) stick to activities that come easily to them, and they are hesitant to try new things that they may fail at.
If you're the type of person who gravitates toward what you're good at—be it what you chose to study in school or the career you are pursuing—it may be because of the way your parents praised you as a child. While it's easy to do something you know you're good at, most people are just as capable of learning a skill outside of their comfort zone. So try a new class at the gym, offer to help out on a project at work that is slightly outside of your wheelhouse, and experiment with complimenting people on their efforts instead of their natural abilities.
Read the full story at New York Magazine, and check out four things you can do right now for an immediate confidence boost next.