Intuition says that people who struggle with something, say earning solid grades or losing weight, will benefit from receiving advice. But findings out of the University of Pennsylvania published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the opposite is also true.
In an intervention with nearly 2,000 high schoolers, a team led by Wharton postdoctoral researcher Lauren Eskreis-Winkler discovered that advice-giving actually helps the students doing the counseling. The paper represents the first major project from Penn’s Behavior Change for Good (BCFG) initiative. It was co-authored by BCFG co-directors and Penn professors Katherine Milkman and Angela Duckworth, as well as BCFG executive director Dena Gromet.
“Motivation is not calculus. If you told students who don’t know calculus, ‘Teach this to somebody else,’ that would be ludicrous,” Eskreis-Winkler explains. “Motivation is a little different. Often, people know what they need to do to achieve a goal. They’re just not doing it. The battle is getting people to enact what they already know.”
The work, executed by the nonprofit Character Lab in partnership with BCFG, could have implications for the way teachers, coaches, and even parents approach motivation. In a conversation with Penn Today, Eskreis-Winkler describes why the findings excite her and where she sees potential for future study.
Funding for the research came from the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavior Change for Good initiative, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the College Board, Character Lab, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation, the Glenn Greenberg and Linda Vester Foundation, Marc J. Leder, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation.
Lauren Eskreis-Winkler is a postdoctoral researcher in the Operations, Information, and Decisions Department in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her Ph.D. from Penn in 2015.
Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the Psychology Department in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. She also co-leads the University’s Behavior Change for Good initiative and runs the nonprofit Character Lab.
Katherine Milkman is the Evan C. Thompson Endowed Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching and a professor of in the Operations, Information, and Decisions Department in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She also co-leads the Behavior Change for Good initiative.
Dena Gromet is the executive director of the Behavior Change for Good initiative.