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Do participation trophies hinder child development?
The fierce debate over participation trophies ignores a crucial fact: Children aren't idiots.
- Coaches, parents, and pro athletes malign participation trophies for teaching children the wrong life lessons.
- Psychologists argue it is more beneficial to praise a child's efforts over their achievements.
- But proponents who use participation trophies as emotional Band-Aids will find they do their children no favors either.
Controversial subjects brim with intense emotions. Abortion, the death penalty, climate change, gender identity, assisted suicide, bring up any one of these subjects and you're guaranteed a lively conversation to follow. But if you really want to make a friend or family member frothy, consider discussing the participation trophy.
Jeff Walz, head coach of the University of Louisville's women's basketball team, offers a prime example. In 2016, he railed against participation trophies after his team lost a game.
"Right now, the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, okay? […] What's that teaching kids? It's okay to lose! And unfortunately, it's our society. It's what we're building for.
And it's not just in basketball, it's in life. […] Everybody thinks they should get a good job. No, that's not the way it works. But unfortunately, that's what we are preparing for. […] I mean, not to be too blunt, but you're a loser. Like, we're losers, we got beat. So, you lost. There is no trophy for us."
Charming. And Coach Walz is hardly alone. Many parents, coaches, and professional athletes believe participation trophies don't adequately prepare children to face the challenges and disappointments of our harsh world. The result is an entire generation of enfeebled adults who are unable to function or achieve.
"[Participation trophies] are bad for kids, bad for parents, bad for society," Cobi Jones, former Olympian and midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy, said during a PragerU interview. "This belief — that showing up is an accomplishment — is self-destructive because the pain of losing is part of what drives one to improve. […] In the real world, you're rewarded for achievement, not effort."
Yep, five inches of cheap golden plastic handed to a five-year-old for picking daisy in left field will be all it takes to diminish his competitive drive, careening him toward a life lacking both meaning and achievement.
Lucky for that kid, and the many others raised with participation trophies, Walz and Jones are not developmental psychologies. Their analysis is based more on a colloquial understanding of what motivates children, and adults, to succeed and not empirical data.
Participation trophies and the developing mind
Detractors argue that participation trophies will teach children that hard work and improvement doesn't matter.
Detractors worry that participation trophies will indoctrinate children into believing that winning isn't important and showing up is all that matters. Children will, in turn, grow up to be adults who are both lackadaisical and narcissistic. By providing trophies to winners only can we instill in them a proper of the relationship between hard work, improvement, and achievement.
But this view ignores evidence suggesting that rewards are only a small part of it. According to sports and clinical psychologist Jonathan Fader, a crucial component is the moment when someone discovers that their dedication and efforts have come to fruition. Sometimes that moment culminates in a trophy. But more often, there exist many smaller moments of personal success. Undervaluing that effort and those smaller moments can in turn hinder motivation and improvement.
"But it's not just the 'losers' we need to worry about; it's the 'winners' too. Phrases like 'You're a winner' or 'You're a natural' can actually be toxic to how kids deal with losing," writes Fader. Such phrases could instill that whether they're winner or loser is something fixed, beyond their ability to change, even with effort.
Fader points to the works of child psychologist Carol Dweck. In an analysis published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dweck and her colleagues reviewed six studies looking at how different types of praise affected a child's willingness to challenge themselves and perform.
Their analysis showed that children who were praised for their efforts, as opposed to strictly their performance, tended to believe that intelligence is something that could be improved — they strived to do so. Conversely, the children who were praised for being smart were found to be more performance focused. This resulted in them displaying "less task persistence, less task enjoyment, more low-ability attributions, and worse task performance."
Dweck calls these different views "growth" and "fixed" mindsets, respectively. Her research suggests that if we really want students to improve their skills, a cornerstone of later success, we need to acknowledge and reward efforts, not talent and not exclusively achievement. Participation trophies can be an important part of this approach.
Overestimating the value of the win
Most children won't make sports a career, but they can still learn many healthy life habits from the experience: win, lose, or draw. Photo credit: Sgt. Laurissa Hodges / U.S. Army
Participation trophy detractors are also prone to incredible leaps in logic. They assume that the lessons learned at a soccer mom's knee will inevitably, irrevocably transfer from childhood to adulthood and from there to society at large. But this view ignores several facts about how children interact with sports.
For most children, sports won't be a realistic career goal. Significantly less than 1 percent of high school athletes go professional. If the aim is to make children winners, then statistically our sports programs fail spectacularly.
For the remaining 99 percent, sports will ultimately be about challenging themselves, acquiring habits for an active lifestyle, developing social bonds, and creating fond memories. A participation trophy can become an emotional object, a symbolic reminder of those moments.
"The idea of giving trophies only to the winners doesn't emphasize enough of the other values that are important," Kenneth Barish, clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Medical College, told Today. "We want kids to participate in sports, to learn to improve their skills, to help others, to work hard and make a contribution to the team."
Walz and Jones's argument then assumes that sports equip children with the skills and grit to succeed in the adult world, and there is some truth to this. Sports can teach career-transferable skills such as teamwork, communication, and self-discipline. But sports are ultimately a very simplistic analogy for life. They come with a rulebook, a referee, and unequivocal win conditions — things the so-called "real world" conspicuously lack. Off the field, what constitutes success is often ambiguous, contestable, and open to interpretation.
Dweck's growth-mindset model offers a superior tool for developing mental fortitude. By focusing on effort over achievement, the growth mindset helps people develop resilience to setbacks. And by teaching children to enjoy the effort, not the reward, it allows them to develop their own metrics for what constitutes success in life.
A new type of participation trophy?
Winning is great, but psychologists argue that we should neither overvalue nor undervalue a child's efforts.
At this point, we've focused on argument against participation trophies. That's because detractors tend to lean hard on sensational rhetoric. To them, participation trophies are an end-to-history-type scenario, one that will lead us to social stagnation. Even so, participation trophy enthusiasts can also miss a critical element in the debate: the children.
Children aren't idiots. They understand that not everybody is a winner and that winning is better than losing. They're equally aware that a first-place trophy is more valuable than a participation trophy (one's way shiner than the other). This means parents and coaches who hope to provide an emotional Band-Aid will ultimately be disappointed. Participation trophies neither devalue first-place trophies, nor shield a child's emotions from the sting of losing.
"Participation trophies were worse than no recognition — they were a sop, an insulting suggestion that a trinket could trick you into feeling like you accomplished something," writes Torie Bosch for Slate.
In truth, there's a limited window in a child's life when a participation trophy provides a feeling of true reward and accomplishment. Speaking with Today, sociologist Hilary Level Friedman noted that a good rule of thumb is the "ages that kids still believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy." For older kids, participation trophies amount to little more than what Bosch calls "an exquisite shame."
Nor should participation trophies be offered for simply showing up, even among younger children. Children are more attune than many adults give them credit, and they can perceive when a parent's excessive fawning is an attempt to hoodwink them.
One study, also published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that children's schoolwork suffers when parents either over- or underpraised their performance. Children whose parents provided accurate, or slightly exaggerated, praise saw the most beneficial results. These results suggest that participation trophies have a place in sports. However, they shouldn't be one-size-fits-all or used to reward unrealistic accomplishments in the hopes of shielding a child's emotions.
Dweck shares these concerns. She worries that well-intentioned attempts to promote growth mindsets may result in what she calls "false growth-mindsets":
"Want to hide learning gaps from [students]? Just tell them, "Everyone is smart!" The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student's current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter."
And here's the Shyamalan twist of this debate. Participation trophy detractors like Walz and Jones are ultimately correct: Participation trophies are a bad idea. They're just right for all the wrong reasons, and their solution to the problem is flawed.
Based on the above research, good practice seems be to giving younger children trophies, but ones that award effort, not just showing up. These trophies would praise individual merit and improvement — whether that's achieving a PR, improve a specific skill, or even something as simple as getting over fear of the ball. For old children, it's best to drop the trophies altogether and replace them with praise for effort and growth in tandem with honest discussion on how to improve.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.