Angela Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania – Self-Control Stategies for School-Age Children

Thank you that was too kind of an introduction indeed I do study grit and when Nancy gave me just one degree of
freedom and said I could talk about what I wanted to I decided not to
talk about grit because nobody ever asks me to come talk about self control but indeed by the grant
numbers and by the number people our lab works more on self control than it does on grit so the slides are yes the slides are there okay great so I wanna say that I
made this quote up in deference to a former APS President
Walter Mischel I believe I emailed him one day and I said Walter can I say that you said that the
most important scientific discovery about self control in that it can be taught and he wrote
back sure I think this is a relatively accurate statement of what Walter does believe I’m of course the popular public knows
now his a his marshmallow test which has been on
the Colbert report no fewer than three times if you add it all up and I think that that in some ways the predictive power
of the marshmallow test belies in a sense the most
important insight from Walters decades of research which is that in observing these young children wait
for two marshmallows instead of one they employed an array of ingenious strategies in order to
delay longer and Walter’s strong belief was that
those strategies could be directly taught and practiced in my own work on self-control I I beg
borrow steal I collaborate with whomever I can and
about four years ago I met the incomparable James Gross and I’m
guessing that about half of you are currently writing a paper with him even at this moment because because eventually everybody works with
James Gross but what really struck me about him was that he was able to bring
together so many disparate findings in self regulation now many of you know
that James primarily works on grownups and he primarily works on a emotion
regulation but the model that he’s developed in
that realm I think has implications for unifying more broadly what we would consider
self-regulation or self control the process model says that impulses
develop so they began perhaps quite weak and
then gather strength and it is by intervening in the process of impulse generation earlier rather than later then we can be really
smart about how to exercise self control in our lives so I’ll just take you
through from situation selection which is the earliest stage at which you
can intervene all the way through to response modulation what I mean and let me illustrate with
some data that James in our lab collected recently from a local high
school where we presented to students from ninth through twelfth grade
a variety of examples of each of the 5 stages in the process
model which I’ll described to you one by one but I’ll just say that when
high school students read examples of modifying their situation verses using attention in a strategic way
verses cognitively changing the way they think
about things the striking finding is that students tell us that to choose your
situation or change your situation in ways that
are very intentional that’s actually probably going to be
much more effective than any of the later cognitive strategies so this indeed is the prediction of the process model that
intervening earlier should be better than interviewing later I will say that we would have loved for
the same students to tell us that each of the subsequent cognitive
strategies would just be a little bit less effective but data never cooperate exactly so
I think the gist of it is that the students have an intuition that
intervening early is better than intervening later now the first thing that one can do according to James
and the process model is to choose your situation to choose
where to be what what do I mean by that for example all the undergraduates who work in my
lab tak an oath that says that they will sit at the
front of the classroom the first three rows
specifically and I always get the same question oh do you mean in your class no I don’t mean in my class I mean in all of
your classes do you mean in the psychology classes no I mean every single lecture that you
attend course they want an explanation for this and the explanation is that when I
was in college taking a class on ancient Chinese
bronzes I could do nothing more than just to
sit in the front of the class to prevent myself from falling asleep for the entire lecture
sitting in the front of the class is putting myself in a situation where
social norms and pure shame would be working to my advantage to keep
my attention on what I needed to do as opposed to something I’d rather be doing
napping you know reading you know anything
else verses the the sort of the you know the nosebleed
section so you can do things like choose your physical situation you can
also choose to some extent your social situation recently we did a focus group of tenth and
fifth-graders at a school in New York City a tough
neighborhood schools were 100 percent free and reduced-price lunch and I listened to a tenth-grader sagely advised the fifth-grader if I only knew
when I was your age what I know now I would have picked my
friends differently because I got into the wrong crowd and
you never can tell yourself how much your friends are really
going to influence you so there’s selecting your physical
situation to advantage going to the library instead of studying
in a noisy house choosing to sit at the front of the
class verses the back to class and you can choose your social
situation to some extent we think that these are intuitive to
students who for example in the same dataset that I mentioned to you
before would when asked about you know what tell us
about self-control in your own life and tell us a story about you
had you know something that you had to resist as a temptation what you did I’ll just read two verbatim
suggestions of students who in this open-ended prompt gave us
things that we classified as being situation selection so I would go to the library as being in a quiet and controlled
environment would make me focus I would lock myself in a room without my
phone so that it does not become a distraction
now many students do not have the liberty or the logistical possibility of
changing where they are and so we think that it’s
also important that they learned to modify their situation and that is to say once choosing where
you are or having it foisted upon you you can
certainly change physical aspects of the situation now Brian Wansink at Cornell University
has a large number studies that have shown that physical cues like
is the glass a tall glass or short class is the soup bowl a big bowl or small bowl can dramatically influence eating
behavior and this is an example we think of
situation modification if it’s not Brian Wansink determining the size
of your soup bowl but you know determining the size of
your soup bowl so we feel like this insight that physical cues matter can be
harnessed by the individual to say I’m going to keep the cookies in my
house in a cookie jar I can’t see through unlike the cookie jar in
my house which like most cookie jars is clear
and tempts me every time I walk by in terms of students and academic
success which is really where my heart is there is the simple modification of closing the laptop while you’re
sitting in lecture on the left you have the typical
scene of students with their laptops open you know on ebay checking their email accounts you know I told my husband that this was
generally true of professors who are lecturing in large classes but not not in my class where everybody was
really just taking notes and paying rapt attention to me so he went to my class and sat in the back row
and took a picture of my class and then pointed out to me that
one intrepid student was actually
watching a full-length feature film during the hour and
twenty-minute lecture which I thought was particularly humiliating I don’t know for the student or for me
but anyway it wasn’t good so you know minor this is of course
only if you as a student have a conflict you both wanna go onto Instagram and
listen to doctor Duckworth tell you what’s on the final exam and if you feel that listening to
what’s going to be on the final exam is in the long run probably a better use of
your time and yet you’re pulled by Instagram that’s classic self-control
conflict and this minor situational adjustment can actually just make it
that much easier here are some verbatim suggestions of
high school students quote I would shut off my phone and put it under my pillow
so I wouldn’t be tempted by to touch it quote I would ask my
mom to take away my phone and other distractions to make sure I can get it
done on time now I won’t play this
clip I’ll just you know fast forward but I’ll just say that
and we’ve been very inspired by the behavior change work of folks like
Carol Dweck and her kind of extended family her progeny
folks like Greg Walton and David Yeager who have shown that in very carefully
crafted brief online interventions you can have
you know reasonably large effects on on behavior change so so we picked up
a bunch of tips from them and we we took the Brian Wansink Research and
we created an intervention we taught kids how to modify their situations and I’ll
try to skip through the actual video we tried to make it cool and fun and in a one-week longitudinal
field study with high school students at baseline students were randomly
assigned to one of three conditions they learned about situation
modification they learned about a later strategy response modulation just kinda good
old-fashioned willpower don’t do it and then finally a no treatment
control condition now at baseline in addition to getting these you know treatment assignments
students set an academic goal which they then
one week later were asked to report on and in this data you can see that
self-reported goal accomplishment was higher in the situation modification
group than either of the two comparison groups
we replicated this with a large sample of college students again those who
were given information about how they can use
situation modification to meet their academic goals did better in doing so than two
comparisons and importantly we found what we
hypothesized which is partial mediation well we would have loved full mediation
but but mediation to some extent by self-reported temptation during that week in other words students who learned to turn off their cellphones put away their
laptops when they’re trying to read a book et cetera felt fewer feelings of temptation towards those other
objects and that at least partially explained the effect of the intervention on goal
accomplishment now I should say a word about these latter three strategies but
I’ll be more brief because James and I don’t believe that they’re
as effective as these you know earlier upstream situational strategies so first there is selectively attending
looking at things in in ways that you think will make it
easier to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong one so for
example at the KIPP charter schools and there are
many of them in New York but they’re now all over the country they have recognized from fairly
early in their in their establishment of these schools probably ten
or fifteen years ago they recognized that you know for sure
it’s hard to pay attention to your teacher it’s hard to just look at your
teacher when you’d rather look elsewhere but they also recognize that by looking
at your teacher and I’ll give you an example this is a
KIPP classroom they’re all looking at the teacher at
KIPP they call tracking it’s tracking the teacher that by accomplishing that you then
make it easier to do what’s even harder which is to truly you know listen and encode and engage
with the academic material in other words you can look out the
window if you want to and then it’s going to be darn near impossible to pay attention at all or to process
the the history lesson or you can track the speaker which
they do it KIPP schools and that facilitates you know downstream
regulation of the things that you need to do so selectively attending what does it
look like when high school students explain they can you know not look at their phone ignore
my phone rang or they can direct their internal attention to things
that are more useful in terms of regulation remind myself that even the most boring
classes count towards my GPA I will note that even though in Walter Mischel ‘s early
studies of the marshmallow students I guess I should say
four-year-olds they’re not students yet children who selectively look you know at or you know objects are not the
marshmallow are able to wait longer so selective attention strategic
attention emerged as one the most important strategies in those early
preschool studies notably this was the least commonly
nominated strategy among among high school students that we
surveyed which we haven’t quite figured out why but we know the disparity now what do you do once you’ve chosen where you’re going to be
modified the situation or not attended to what you’ve decided to
attend to you can of course change your mind you can re-frame or change the cognitive representation of
the situation there are many ways to do this but one
very important way relevant to self control self-regulation is reconstruing the distance of the situation
psychological distancing so in one random assignment study in collaboration
with you Ethan Cross kids in fifth grade were either chosen
to replay an event of an angry memory as it unfolds in their own eyes that’s
the first person immersed egocentric control condition or alternatively
in the intervention to replay the event as it unfolds as they observe their distance self the third
person or most effectively it’s like you’re in a YouTube video oh okay now I know what you mean okay so this is very facilitative of
emotion regulation in particular regulating the negative the lingering
negative emotions of that angry memory easier when you’re seeing yourself in the
third person like you are the fly on the wall in the
situation verses from the first person egocentric perspective I recently
had an argument with my spouse and tried to do this I was like oh okay Angela Duckworth had an argument
with her spouse it didn’t really work actually I was
you know flooded with emotion but I will say this I think that in general the very exciting work on
psychological distancing and reconstrual you know it opens up a whole doorway of
things like just the very idea that the mental representation that there’s still
some agency there that that there’s still on an opportunity
there for us to regulate that I think is very important here’s some
verbatim suggestions of high school students quote I would plan something for myself
that I’d only do if I got straight A’s so I would sorta think about pairing the
you know the the homework with you know later reward I
would set goals break the project up into pieces I
will say this and I know there’s not opportunity for questions and discussion categorizing what students you know in
this open-ended way would just tell us they would do was very difficult and also made me
realize some the limitations of the process model which have these five neat you know
distinctions but actually in reality end up being you know not distinctions that are
very well respected by high school students who tell us that they do you
know more than one strategy at once were you know things that are hard to
categorize things that are kind of on the border so let me just tell you about the
last stage which doesn’t need much telling at all
because this is really just good old-fashioned don’t do it or do do it depending on what you’re
trying to as the Buddhists would say and as the Buddhists would disrecommend
this is simply crushing mind with mind right and I think you know
just in thinking about the work that was presented earlier in some ways you know this discussion of you know
early self-regulation leading to sort of higher order more sophisticated ways of regulation and I think of this as kinda
you know as executive function in its rawest form there’s almost no art or strategy to it at
all what does that look like if you’re talking about high school students don’t
be a baby and just study just deal with it and study just do it
just focus and get my work done and we actually use the word just in our
coding manual as a sign that really kids were you know talking about
this last stage I wanna end by saying that you know whatever strategy it is that
you use to sit in the front of the lecture hall to you know turn your phone off to look at
the teacher not look out the window to frame a situation a particular
way it of course helps to do some advance planning and I think that
the work of Gabriele Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer
could not be more influential for myself as a scientist as as well as almost everybody I
know who works on behavior change so I’ll just quickly say that their work
where students are encouraged in a very systematic way to set goals and to in advance plan how they hope to act
in a certain situation so goal-setting and goal planning seems to for
example in our joint work in a random assignment
placebo-controlled longitudinal field study over the course of half of an academic year this brief intervention is able to improve GPA from school records as well from school records school
attendance you know being on time and teachers who
are blind to condition their ratings of classroom conduct during that semester it is not a
miracle so you know subsequently you know behavior
returns and there is you know the difference between the control group and the intervention group a road to
non-significance but I do think it’s really a promising direction in order for us to put everything
together that’s known about these higher level metacognitive
strategies so so all the things I talked about in the process model kind of
get wrapped in a way in the kinda mental contrasting
and implementation intention work that Gabriele and Peter are
doing and then finally I will just say to expand the scope even you know broader than what I’ve
tried to do already believe that there’s a role for habit
habit formation that has just begun to get you know some traction on in our
work we find that more self control individuals more self control students
in particular have stronger study habits they study
at that same time every day they study in the same place every day
my daughter is an exception to this she feels like it’s much better to wake up
every day and decide on the spot what you’re gonna do and how
you’re gonna do it I’m in a more reactive way and you know I’ll show
her this figure when I get home which is that
more self-controled kids tend to have these habits and those habits mediate to a large extent the positive
effects of self-control on things like studying when things
are difficult and also grades and so let me and end with this slide
from from William James and in his classic
work in 1899 said virtues virtues are habits as much as vices
our nervous systems grow to the way in which they have been exercised just
as a sheet of paper once creased or folded tends to fall for
ever afterward into the same identical folds so let the children
learn the process model strategies and let them learn mental contrasting in implementation
intentions let them learn the folds that we think will set them up for success later in life and thank you
for your attention thank you Nancy for having me I really appreciate the
opportunity thanks

8 thoughts on “Angela Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania – Self-Control Stategies for School-Age Children

  1. Awesome, very pratice-oriented and scientific correct held speech with nice graphics. I'm studying Psychology too, and this is great.

  2. Hey there! LOVE the Video! Very helpful material! The title says Stategies – not strategies. Please correct if you care;-)

  3. All of her strategies, even the earliest ones, still involve choice. The individual must make the choice to change or alter their situation. They must make that choice based on the understanding that the long term goal is more important or better for them. Isn't that what will power is based on? It seems that the earliest strategies still rely on the last one…good old fashioned will power to make the better choice!

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