Were Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci born brilliant or did they acquire their intelligence through effort?
No one knows for sure, but I always tell my children that if they want to achieve something, if they work hard enough, there’s nothing they cannot achieve.
A recent study at Michigan State University (with lead researcher Hans Schroder) indicated that telling people that hard work means more than genes, causes instant changes in the brain, and may make them more willing to strive for success.
For the study, two groups of participants read different articles. One article reported that intelligence is largely genetic while the other said the brilliance of da Vinci and Einstein was “probably due to a challenging environment. Their genius had little to do with genetic structure.”
The participants were instructed to remember the main points of the article and then completed a simple computer task while their brain activity was recorded. The researchers found that:
The group that read intelligence was primarily genetic paid more attention to their responses, as if they were more concerned with their performance. This extra attention, however, did not relate to performance on trials after errors, suggesting a disconnect between brain and behaviour.
In contrast, those who had read that intelligence was due to a challenging environment showed a more efficient brain response after they made a mistake, possibly because they believed they could do better on the next trial. The more attention these participants paid to mistakes, the faster their responses were on the next trial.
The study was interesting, because it investigates the messages about the nature of abilities people are exposed to on a regular basis. From a teacher comforting a pupil (“It’s OK, not everyone can be good at maths.”) to the sports announcer commenting on a player’s skill (“Wow, what a natural!”). These messages are thought to contribute to the attitudes or “mindsets” people hold about their intelligence and abilities.
I often think that children get negative vibes about certain subjects, such as maths. If both parents are telling a child “we’re no good at maths so you won’t be either – it’s all in our genes!” then whether it’s genetic or not, the child will probably never excel in the subject. However if the child was told “We never worked hard enough to do well in maths, but we wished we had” the child is far more likely to believe that they can learn maths, and become good at it.
I think that goes for anyone who wants to achieve a goal. You have to believe in yourself and trust your own vision and instincts, and the rest will fall into place.
If you have faith in your own abilities, and you work hard, there’s nothing that you cannot accomplish.
As Leonardo da Vinci himself said: “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
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