Self-sabotage: Why Some People Can't Handle
ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 2007) — New
research shows that how people view their abilities in the workplace impacts
how they respond to success. Dr. Jason Plaks, a social psychologist at the
University of Toronto and Kristin Stecher, a research scientist at the
University of Washington, found that those who thought of their capabilities
as fixed were more likely to become anxious and disoriented when faced with
dramatic success, causing their subsequent performance to plummet, compared to
those who thought of their abilities as changeable.
"People are driven to feel that they can predict and control their
outcomes. So when their performance turns out to violate their predictions, this
can be unnerving -- even if the outcome is, objectively speaking, good
news," says Plaks. He points out that the notion that people often
sacrifice their success in the name of greater certainty has some intuitive
appeal but it has never been put to a rigorous test.
In one representative study, Plaks and Stecher used a questionnaire to
classify participants into those who endorsed a fixed view of intelligence and
those who endorsed a malleable view. Then participants took three versions of
what was purported to be an intelligence test. After the first test, all
participants were given a lesson on how to improve their score. After the second
test, participants were randomly assigned to be told that their performance had
improved, stayed constant, or declined.
Among those who believed they had improved, those with the fixed view became
more anxious and performed worse on the third test than those with the malleable
view. However, among participants who believed that their performance had failed
to improve, it was the malleable view participants who grew anxious and
underperformed compared to their fixed view counterparts.
Plaks notes that if people gain an understanding of how they view their
abilities, as fixed or changeable, then they can be aware of the advantages and
pitfalls of both perspectives. This in turn may better equip them to adopt
alternative theories to explain life's ups and downs. "Both approaches are
highly intuitive and that makes them relatively easy to teach," says Plaks.
"If we can get people to change their underlying assumptions about their
abilities then they may improve their performance and that is positive news for
those charged with the task of getting people to reach their full
The study findings were published in the October issue of the Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology.
Adapted from materials provided by University
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