There is debate over whether a good batch of genes or good old fashion hard work causes more success. A new study found that telling people that hard work is more important than genetics causes positive changes in the brain that makes people want to work harder.

Published in the journal Biological Psychology ,researchers asked one group of participants to read an article that linked intelligence to genetics and asked a second group to read an article that linked the intelligence of Einstein and de Vinci was "probably due to a challenging environment" and not genetics.  The participants then were asked to complete a computer task while researchers analyzed their brain activity.

Led by Hans Schroder, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Michigan State University, the researchers found that the group that read that intelligence was linked to a challenging environment showed more efficient brain responses. When they would make an error, their brain showed positive responses, probably because they believed they could do better in the next round. Paying attention to mistakes made them faster and successful during the next trail.

The group that associated intelligence and genetics paid more attention to their responses, but the extra attention did not help their performance.

"Giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance," says Schroder. "In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning."

The new findings provides physiological evidence to previous research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck that found elementary students who were praised for their intelligence performed worse after mistakes when tasks became harder.

The findings are not an answer to the nature verses nurture debate, but Schroder says that positive messages contribute to "mindsets" people have regarding their intelligence. Knowing that goals can be achieved when challenged makes people want to work harder to become successful. 

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