If you believe you can get better at math through hard work, you’re more likely to do so

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Quartz is a digital news channel on economics and business. Two academics have written an interesting story in it about ability and achievement at mathematics.

People’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For almost everyone, believing that you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way—is believing a lie. IQ itself can improve with hard work.

They found that students who agreed that “You can always greatly change how intelligent you are” got higher grades.

Math education, we believe, is just the most glaring area of a slow and worrying shift. We see [the USA] moving away from a culture of hard work toward a culture of belief in genetic determinism.

This problem happens outside the US too. I know a lot of people who believe they’re just naturally bad at maths. They seem resigned to it. The research – and professor anecdotes – presented in the article suggests that’s not the case.

It’s a shame then that people believe they’re just innately, genetically, unsuited to mathematics. In today’s high-tech world not being able to speak the language of science, technology, finance, and engineering means you’ll never understand what’s under the hood. And you’re probably limiting your well-paying career choices, if that’s important to you.

I’ve always been prejudiced towards mathematics but I’ve been reminded of its importance in the last couple of weeks during my Interactive Python course. People in the discussion forums for that course are complaining because while they expected to learn a new programming language they didn’t expect to have to understand and apply modulo operations and logarithms. But you need to use these concepts to create on-screen graphics and interactive elements in event-driven programming.

Maths is important. If you think you can’t do it you’re probably wrong.