Research on Positivity Surprises Scientists

Yesterday I received an email from Simon Waterfield a partner at Nelsons Solicitors in Nottingham who highlighted details of recent research on the impact of a Positive Mindset which he thought I would find of interest – he was right.

This research was first published in Psychological Science on January 24th, 2018 and demonstrates the impact of a positive mindset in a learning situation and these are the details:

Researches surprised by results

When Stanford researchers recently peered into the brains of students to see how attitude affects achievement, they found something startling. Your outlook on learning, it turns out, matters just as much as your IQ.

Scientists and educators have long noted that kids who have a positive attitude towards math do better in the subject, but is that just because acing tests naturally makes you enjoy something, or does the arrow of causation point the other way?

Does starting off with the expectation that you’ll enjoy and be good at math help you master numbers?

Stanford University

To start to tease this out a research team out of Stanford recently analyzed the math skills and attitudes of 240 kids aged seven to ten, as well as running 47 of them through an fMRI machine while asking them to do some basic arithmetic. What did they find?

As expected, kids who did well in math liked math more, both according to self-reports and their parents, and kids who hated the subject did poorly. But the brain scans also turned up something much more fascinating.

The brain changes

The images revealed that the hippocampus, a brain area linked with memory and learning, was significantly more active in kids with a positive attitude towards math.

It appears it’s not just that children like subjects they’re good at. It’s also that liking a subject helps students’ brain actually work better.

“We think the relationship between positive attitude and math achievement is mutual, bi-directional,” said Lang Chen, the study’s lead author. “It’s like bootstrapping: A good attitude opens the door to high achievement, which means you then have a better attitude, getting you into a good circle of learning.”

Attitude makes a huge difference

But whatever the exact weight of various factors turns out to be, it’s already clear that attitude has a bigger impact on performance than the scientists expected.

“Attitude is really important,” said Chen, “Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ.”

This backs up my thinking

This very good current research again demonstrates the importance of positive attitude. A significant part of my teaching on Mental Resilience revolves around developing a positive mindset and techniques to achieve that.

There is more and more evidence appearing to back this up and even thought ‘Positive Thinking’ has been around for hundreds of years it still one of the keys to success and happiness. As an example when I am teaching people to speak on stage the positive inner voice is critical to success.

It’s been a good week

This week has been great fun with two Mental Resilience Keynote talks to the staff of Derby College at their Inset Day training and the feedback from these has been wonderful.

I also had my second coaching session with my client from Dublin using a great video conferencing facility – not Skype! This was an amazing session which was extremely effective and beneficial – it felt like I was there with him.

Finally I particularly like this quote from self-made millionaire Richard Branson:

“Positive people don’t just have a good day; they make it a good day. People who think positively usually see endless possibilities.”

Thoughts for the week:

1. What percentage of our day are we positive vs negative?
2. When we are positive, we have more energy.
3. When we have more energy, we achieve more.
4. When we achieve more, we feel more positive and have more energy.
5. When we are negative, we achieve less.

By the way I would love to hear from you if you ever come across anything interesting – just reply to any blog.

Well that’s it for this week have a great weekend and stay positive.

Warmest regards


Off the Wall – How to Develop World Class Mental Resilience available here (Special offer. Put in code 10POUND when prompted to receive a signed copy for £10 including postage and packing – UK only)

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