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The Importance of Believing in the Possibility of Change

Posted on March 8, 2013 | No Comments

The question of the plasticity of our behavior is essential to the art of living. It is at this point we can say that the main task of psychology is to discover the types of modifiable behaviors and offer to all those who wish to contribute knowledge that the art of living with oneself and with others.

Several studies have shown that the belief in the possibility of psychological changes is essential to effective change. One of the most productive researchers in this area is Carol Dweck. With his team at Stanford University has shown that individuals who believe that their behaviors are modifiable, more than those who do not believe, appear open to new learning, face difficulties more readily, more easily resolved interpersonal conflicts and rebound better after.

Dweck has conducted several experiments on the effects of belief change. In one of them, teachers routinely congratulated students for their efforts and strategies they were implementing. Teachers welcomed just as other students for their intelligence (seen as a characteristic invariable). Result: the first group of students achieved better learning outcomes and were more resilient to the challenges and échecs8.

Other research has focused on two groups of students who entered secondary education (junior high school). All of these students attended eight training sessions on strategies for effective study. A difference, however: in a group, the teachers explained and repeated, so convincing, that the brain is like a muscle, it grows as you use it. This intervention – all in all very simple – proved effective: significantly, the students in this group were more zealous in their study and did better results.

The importance of knowing the current limits opportunities for change

Until the 1970s, most psychologists adhered to the scientific conception “environmentalist”. Their position is explained by the success of learning experiences (made primarily on animals), but also by ideological factors. That human behavior is determined by genes, it was for the university, a symptom of political conservatism or fascism or Nazism.

In fact, some learning is realized easily, quickly and permanently. Others are with difficulty or impossible. A rat learns easily jump on a platform at a lamp is lit, to avoid receiving electric shocks in legs. He learns more difficult to press a lever to avoid shocks. A cat learns fast enough to press a lever to avoid the occurrence of shocks, but appears incapable of learning to lick to get the same effect.

The book The biological boundaries of learning and J. Martin Seligman L. Hager, published in 1972, was a milestone in the design possibilities of change or not comportement10. It presented a body of research demonstrating significant genetic predisposition to learning.

Progress of scientific psychology today can change many things. Example, we can learn to disappear quickly and permanently, phobias and also – but less easily – compulsive rituals. However, some changes are very difficult – for example, sustained release of severe alcohol dependence or fall permanently below its weight “natural” 11. Further, in the present state of knowledge, are simply impossible. Thus, people who have sadistic desires or pedophilia, and who wish to get rid of them can make them disappear permanently. They can only learn not to put acte.

Say that we can change any type of behavior, as some claim gurus and “shrinks” of all kinds is feeding false hopes, hopes that end in shame, guilt and depression.

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