Friday, August 24, 2018

Children Giving Advice to Children

Traditionally, psychoanalysts and many other psychotherapists refuse to give advice. Their bailiwick is the mind, and they would not want you to imagine that you might improve your mental health by changing the way you conduct yourself in the world.

I have discussed this question on this blog and, in detail, in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. I suspect that therapists do not give advice because they do not know how to give advice. Thus, they often give bad advice.

Now, a new study from the University of Chicago seems to vindicate their decision. Considering that psychoanalysis has made its way into the dustbin of history, its few remaining practitioners are happy to grab hold of any lifeline they can get.

The Chicago study suggests that people who give advice do better than people who receive advice. If you want to be motivated, give advice to other people. One might suggest that analysts who refuse to give advice to their patients are doing the right thing, from the standpoint of motivation. One might also suggest that, by failing to give advice, they are demotivating themselves… and thus losing interest in their patients.

Anyway, the funny part about this study is the demographic. It does not comprise college students and their advisers. It does not comprise employees and their managers. It does not refer to husbands and wives. It does not refer to drill sergeants and recruits. No, sir. The group that was tested comprised middle school students. That is, 11, 12 and 13 year olds. The notion that we can extrapolate from children to adults is risible on its face. After all, the moral center of the human brain, the part the controls self-discipline, among other things, does not develop until late adolescence.

Anyway, here is a summary:

In one experiment with public school middle-schoolers (sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders), researchers asked one group of students to give advice to younger students about staying motivated in school. They asked another group of students to get advice about staying motivated in school from a teacher. The advice sessions occurred once a week over three weeks.

Before, during and after the intervention, the middle-schoolers could sign into a vocabulary program online. An invisible timer tracked minutes spent with the program.

Researchers found that the group giving advice studied vocabulary 38 percent more in the four weeks after the intervention than did the middle-schoolers who received advice about schoolwork from a teacher.

From this, the researchers drew a conclusion:

The very act of giving the advice makes the giver feel powerful and confident, an effect the predictors of behavior didn’t account for, Fishbach and colleagues wrote. Giving advice also restores some of the confidence lost when people have routinely fallen short of goals. Confident people set higher goals for themselves and remain more committed to them over time, the researchers said.

Conversely, “when people lack motivation, receiving advice may actually be harmful. Receiving help can feel stigmatizing because it undermines feelings of competence,” the authors stated.

The findings have implications for programs that promote weight loss, academic achievement or better job performance, because those programs typically rely on participants receiving rather than giving advice.

Naturally, the authors do not address the fact that they are dealing with children. They have no qualms or hesitation about extending their result to apply to adults.

Equally important, they see the situation as a power dynamic. As you might know, “power” is now one of the trendiest of trendy concepts. Everything involves power and empowerment and disempowerment. By this aberrant theory, people want nothing more than to overpower each other. It makes for a very tedious life, one without very much human connection.

We can suggest that the middle schooler who gives advice has a more objective view of the problem. For standing outside of it, he sees it more clearly. As for the child who refuses to take the advice, evidently he believes that it would cause him to lose face. In the preteen and preadolescent mind, this functions differently than it might with adults.

Do I need to tell you that children rarely give advice to other children. Motivating your peers is not part of the job description of middle schoolers. Duh!

And, let’s also say that the studied group comprised public school pupils from Chicago. Does the study make any allowances for the way these children have been brought up or for the way they learned or did not learn how to deal with authority. Would the researchers have achieved the same results of they had studied the children of Tiger Moms?

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

I have to think their analysis is BO-O-GUS! But, that's just me.