« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

Making the Grade

2019-11-19

From school grades to fitness trackers, we're all being ranked and rated on a daily basis. This is having a huge impact on our happiness and preventing us from living our lives to the fullest. Can giving up on grades radically improve our wellbeing?

For an even deeper dive into the research we talk about in the show visit happinesslab.fm

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
how happiness lab listeners i want to tell you about a new podcast i think you're like it's called the last archive and it features one of my favorite new yorker writers the harvard historian jill uproar jill asks the big question who killed truth she looks for clues and events across the twentieth century from a brutal death in burma to the invention of the lighted factor to the release of the polio vaccine the last archive is unlike any podcast you ve heard before it brings history the life with archival tapes intrepid field reporting an old timely radio drama reenactments the last archive unfurled like a classic nineteen thirties mystery but takes on the big issues of today wouldn't you like to know who killed truth then check out the last hour five brought you buy pushkin industries have included a trailer at the end of this episode you can subscribe today on apple spot
i refer you get your podcast i want you to think back to your school days for a second what was the worst great you ever got how did it make you feel and now think about the best grade how is that great even decades after graduation we can still remember what those marks felt like and it makes sense that reed's affect us so deeply because they are important i mean they're kind of synonymous with education aren't they well it turns out not really act creates a relatively new invention for all seven centuries schools got by without them professor myself i find it incomprehensible i'm generation after generation of scholars completed their studies without anything akin to a great point average how good my predecessors tell students apart how did they sort pupils
worked really really hard from those who just founded it back in seventeen eighty five all that changed so we have specific karen found for us today i region he went on a pilgrimage to especial spot at yale where i teach the binary library in order to see important document one that's captain inside a copy of the declaration of independence and one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world i can just i wash my hands but i can just open it and it's like not going to break it i was able to hold the theory of as restyled seventh president of yell university so so then pour empire is right here on april fifth seventeen five he recorded the details of an exam he'd conducted that spring tuesday with fifty eight of his students colleague mike moran pointed me to a short but revolutionary footnote twenty optimum sixteen second up to me
twelve inferior worries bonnie ten but in the unlikely event the or someone who doesn't speak latin let me translate for you sir else was splitting his students up into four different grades from optimum best to procure is worse with this tiny footnote just a few lines its argued that styles invented the four point o grading system we still use today i mean of meeting its like a single line his hand written text and the bay thing in education shaped our history it's right there in my and i got to hold the first ever grades nowadays we don't just have gps we have say tease and jerry's in advanced placement tests and everything in between its estimated that the average american child takes more than a hundred standardized tests but we just great and education we think ratings are a good incentive for all our behaviors enemy
were constantly being evaluated from the number of stars and our are driver rating to our posit many percentages on ebay to perform review on the job we seem to of being measured and when yet good grades it feels great all those it places the gold stars those little smartphone vibrations we had our goal they encourage to become better more virtuous people or do they are chasing these incentives really is good for our happiness as we think our minds are constantly telling us what to do to be happy but if our minds are wrong what if i'm
i lied to us leading us away from all will really make us happy the good news is the understanding the signs of the mind in point us all back in the right direction you are listening to the happiness lab with doktor lorry centres the first hammer and boxed it i felt kind of like a dweeb this is emma lord she rights for bus that come back in two thousand fourteen she broke off i couldn't run for a little while while i was waiting for a fracture to heal all that's kind of how the whole thing started i was i was pretty much not to run for like six weeks entity that kind of seed like a nightmare emma was worried she wouldn't be able to stay in shape while she was injured so her money but her a new step tracking device a fit bit hoping it would make her feel better and keep moving while she held but i hear you know the first day i use did it did that thing
where it buzzed when i got to ten thousand steps and how is like like this is such a nice viewing it i just got invalidation from it and then i was caught a hook to emma quickly expect asked what science shows happens when we start greeting our performance with incentives like a fit bit buzz humans are like little lab rats when it comes to external rewards those buzzes good grades and gold stars work really well they change our behaviour quickly but often more quickly than we expect i guess after that first day at the baseline goal was to always hit the ten thousand steps and then you know it started getting to this threshold for your like oh if i could do ten thousand i can do fifteen and that was when started seeing the problem external rewards like the buzz of a fit bit are so powerful but they often work a little too well i think the first moment i felt myself becoming a little bit
did you it was i realized i was suddenly getting on the metro two hours before work just like could get in the ten thousand steps before work because i just like wanted that validation like really early in the day so it's gonna be like off my conscience which is like such a weird thing to think about because like nobody was going at the police for it gonna come for me if i didn't hit thousand steps that day but i just like better after it had bunched the scary thing was at the fit but what just affecting emma's happiness it also started affecting emma's relationships when i i got a new job once and there is a fit bid leader born to see who had the best apps and some guy in the office had like thirty thousand and i went i hope that we can to crushed it and i came and the next day and i was like i got thirty five thousand and like nobody was pleased with me it's like not the way to make the level of petition emma experience with her fitted reminiscent of another time in her life when she felt super competitive back in school i came from one of the most complex
school districts in that country is always like one of those things are every move like the hunger to humans and there so i definitely do think that this is related to that in some ways i definitely was one of those kids who is very very manic about my grades in two thousand and fifteen i am assured her experiences in an article on bustle entitled now teen very real emotional struggles of having a fit bit or does your fit but have you i am thought it would be in related to other people who are kind of going through the motions on that too and weirdly i got more response from that article been maybe anything i've read novels entire site because you know it is such a relate of all kind of mania especially because you know i think who are so confused about where that compulsion is coming from that it's almost a relief to be like oh not the only crazy one but display her own experiences with fit bit and the response to her peace years later emma
till tracking you know even after the foot injury healed eyelike found myself still hunting even when i was running that was something i'd never really felt the need to count before just to lake have that number there until i know exactly how many steps i had an a day i mean it for years it i'm still doing it emma experience shows that seemingly innocuous benchmarks concur we change our behaviour for the worse but they're more insidious than we realise f external reward has the power to turn love into hate and virtue in device they can even relentlessly play on our most primal fears the happiness lab we'll be right back where do you stand on obamacare it's one of the most
early divisive issues in u s politics today i bet you have a pretty soon opinion about it so what do you think it would take to shift that opinion significantly would you leave me if i said i could manipulate your view with some arbitrary incentive like giving you a fake grade let me explain back in eighteen sixty one robber boston as colleagues surveyed more than two hundred students on a couple hot button issues there whether america should legalise gambling and if the she should adopt socialized medicine a few weeks later all participants were assigned to re essays about these issues but and this is crucial they were asked to defend the very view they had staunchly opposed people viewed gambling as an evil had to reign supreme of casino honours those saw socialize medicine is creeping communism were told to act as its cheerleaders the scientists collected the essay but didn't even bother reading them boss
colleagues knew that the simple act of writing about the opposite view was likely to see in everyone's opinions changing their mind slightly but what effect would smacking in which were agreed on those essays have the next day the recent was handed them back randomly a third of them in a third of them a d and a third no great at all we are seeing their marks students the original survey again so what happened students got no grade or a bad greed adee changed their minds a bit but some being much more incredible happened to the group that got nay remember the creature even totally randomly the agreed it s what better or more thoroughly research than the others nevertheless students who got that fake shifted their views more significantly than those who got a bad grade the simple act of getting there a students to change their core beliefs isn't that chilling views we hold dear can be swayed by the simple act of evaluation even
the evaluation is totally bogus bullets play a little game it's called onscreen the letters i'm going to give you a series of letters and you turn them into an english word here is an easy one just three letters ready k o eight times up did you get the answer is book here's a harder one five letters ready see l p a time's up the answer place and now and even harder one it's got nine letters ready o n v o t you i l e time's up the answer evolution think about how much you enjoyed playing this game unless you're a huge puzzle fiend
the last one with nine letters might have been a bit taxing the first one with three letters probably wasn't that great either it was a little too easy to be fun that the one in the middle was just right when playing a game like this we prefer puzzles that are hard but doable those are the ones we tend to enjoy the most the same holds for little kids back in the seventies child psychologist susan harder tested sixth graders on anagrams just like this she gave them super easy ones would just three letters and ones with six letters that were pretty tough for children their age what did she find overall the kids were happiest when pushing the boundaries of their abilities they even smiled most twice as much when doing the harder puzzles but what then when you throw grades into the mix to test that harder told a different group of sixth graders that the puzzles were part of a school
their size and that they would be graded on their performance the result it's actually heartbreaking here's how harder described it children working for grades chose significantly easier anagrams for not only did subjects respond below their optimal level but they manifested less pleasure and verbal ized more anxiety when working for grades the kids did worse felt worse and aid lower grades can take experiences that our minds normally fine really enjoyable and turn them to a source of dread my yes memory of this was actually when i seventh grade this is see george she spent her whole career rising student suffering from severe academic stress she seen first hand how aids can become a dangerous obsession how they robson of joy and even worse i was to a private middle school outside of cleveland ohio where i'm from and
one day a girl i know was crying at her locker right as in the middle class you kind of snuff out i'd love to go to the bathroom and she was there alone cry and i asked her what was going on and she said she had gotten her first be and he was so worried she would not be able to get into the school she wanted to go to and she had already picked whatever ivy league she wanted to go to that time at eleven or twelve and it was hard to see that that she was distraught and so worried about and really terrified i mean she was crying and almost like shaking about what this would mean for her future and was the first time i realized i really wanted to help people and stew and growing adults learned what is important to them today train as the founding director of the good life centre a yell university tracy and i teamed up to fell at this new resource on campus in order to improve student while being note the irony here the very collar for gps were invented now in place
crazy see as well as a host of other staff members to deal with the fall out of that two hundred year old system that yes there's a long long weightless to see mental health counselor here and that's really want the purposes of the good life centres to create a space for this overflow where to students go and they need to learn how to manage this daily fear the stately stress this daily anxiety and this isn't just an ivy league problem or a yell problem this is the thing that colleges are seeing nation wide re right absolutely this is an american thing this is our country and how we are approaching education and its really detrimental and is breaking students down it's one thing to feel a little asked about getting your first be or taken bit neurotic about missing your fit bit buzz but that's not what talking about college mental health centres aren't just dealing with a few obsessive stressed out students we are facing a real epidemic in a national survey more than forty percent of college students reported there to depress to function
more than half of current students say they feel hopeless a lot of the time more than sixty percent said they experienced overwhelming anxiety more than one in ten say they ve seriously considered suicide in the last year and these are not numbers should be seeing in this young population this is when their brains are continuing to form their starring effect who they are what they want to do in the world this isn't just a surface lovell amount of stress or worry it's really the sphere east reaction just like experienced and seventh grade this fear about what it will mean for your future really far down the line which most disturbing about all this fear and stress is that how it's making students feel its affecting students physical how the basic way bodies function and so this constant low level stress has a trickle down effect of physical effects like are higher blood pressure higher heart rate quicker breathing
which is the activation of our sympathetic nervous system that is designed to help us fight often animal or flight run away from an animal in a very direct way with our evolution like a tiger is attacking us base rate rate there is a tiger in the bush and we need to respond so our muscles tense as if we're actually getting ready to hit something a runaway away heart rate goes up our blood pressure goes up order to get the blood to our muscles to activate those muscles and allow of functions decrease that we do from eating survival like we don't need digestion we don't need reproduction and we don't need a lot of major systems to survive in the moment and there's a ton of research that shows regular fight or flight with causes chronic stress in the body has a trickle down effect of health impacts the problem as we see this system activated students see these little lions and tigers and bears behind every bush daily modern lives so like a tiger or a bare it's an exam or a transcript or an application that's actually causing the same reaction so anita
to students and you ask about their stress responses especially chronic stress responses they often talk about headaches muscle tension by just of issues even reproduction sexual issues and don't realize untilled they're getting process this biological prospects explain its actually chronic stress causing this trickle down effect of the goal issues it's really problematic especially because i see them that students or wrapping up their sense of value and purposes a human in their graves there not just being created in their classrooms are being created with everything from instagram likes to their put their fit bit is telling them absolutely heard some students doesn't always going like why did this picture get enough legs or why did this black i stop getting legs after so many days or whatever you know any app it is designed to support us in a certain activity like a running app even meditation apps rights or even
to be quite headed of even meditation apps are competitive now yeah it's really crazy actually having opened a happen awhile because of this i mean even seems to come back to my class mindfulness class at a teacher at yale are talking about themselves as being coordinated bad monitors tracy i have had lots of conversations about what we can do to fix things but we both worry it's going take more than a wellness centre it's going to take me structural changes to how we and our institutions think about external rewards the the culture the system has to change as well especially for the school that invented this for point grading scale we invented this process we are in a great positions try to untangle that a little bit and to give a new generation of students a fighting chance at being functional and happy and successful but that kind of change really hard we might be need to abandon the ways we educated students since the time of as let's get started
two psychology and good life today through is just a quick introduction to the horse have been listening to the happiness lab for a while you know i teach ass at yale called psychology in the good life an entire class devote to teaching students how to be happier over a thousand students and wrong the first time i taught it this is all want is class which is that i actually want to help you i also find ways to overcome the strasbourg is not healthy but even an ivy league ass devoted to making students happier had to the one thing that i knew would make my students the most miserable these things i waited you are read it all we're gonna talk about razors nationwide october i have to give you one is your wages or did i wish i'd do that's right despite everything i just told you i still had to
read my students and while showing them the research that grace dont work the way we think but i tried to give them away outlay you'll let me just last thursday when they re gravely now i know you have a mechanism to support this because you may have arisen as has been seen to clasp kennedy credit d is the yield version of past fail you get a great but there are no a minuses and b plus just credit or no credit but i still couldn't for students to give up their grades they had to elect to take my class credit d of there an accord i did a lot to try to convince them why my hair everything went along the horse suggesting resembling done you learn less europe works in your have you been everything this force is supposed to fighting against what i have to provide so the glass petty seriously i know how many
it is actually took the class credit d i dont know because proof there at yale are allowed to know it still considered a stigma student to choose to take a class without a letter great so they get to keep it a secret two hundred yours after yell president as restyle created grades this is how deep his beliefs go they're so entrenched there like a religion was starting to lose faith in this system but to find a path forward i had to talk to one of the few true heretics who are willing to raise their voices and fight but if you're asking should we just get rid of grades yes i mean grange poison everything they touch the happiness lab we'll be back in a moment writer alfie code has been america's fiercest critic of our grading obsession for decades this could be
whether lucian you have to change the way you think about parenting because how many of you out there have offered bribes to get your kids to stop crying hist the warning about the dangers of external rewards got him invited on oprah twice in one year back in the nineties you think ginger being punished by the rewards in the long run right but in the short run it works as right off his classic book punished by rewards will just reprinted to markets twenty fifth anniversary three twenty five years longer than my college students have been alive alfie spin railing against the creek as restyled for more than a quarter century grades problematic because of a larger phenomenon of using extrinsic inducements doggie biscuits carrots and sticks choose your metaphor to try to make students proof warm rather than austin tickly engaging students in dealing with question
the problem is and projects that they find interesting and work fear curiosity and the three facts of graves overall are one undermining students interest in learning to the bed to my knowledge every study that has ever compared students with and without grades in terms of their excitement about the learning has found a negative effect from grades boy challenging tasks if they have students to try to avoid challenging tasks if they have an told it to do that they will then pick the short book or them familiar topic for their project that's not me austere lazy it's not me their snowflakes its beak this system has led them to risk rationally to an irrational demand i mean if it the point is to get an aid of course you are more likely to do that if you do is over easier
let me turn around and blame the students for not being motivated when the rating system has elicited a very predictable response and the third effective grades instead of students to think in a shall wear or more superficial way there less likely to really press to say how do we know that's true or isn't that contradictory to what we did last week there are more likely to say who after all this is gonna be on the test and again the problem is not with students is with the fact of giving great search finds that when you get rid of things like rays and indeed all rewards kids tediously pig harder things to do so you can't improve the system by merely tweaking the way grades or doc you ve gotta get rid of which a number of schools have done including some colleges and high schools have even more middle schools in elementary schools when i first met
coffee at his home in massachusetts i took in the present a photocopy of that as styles diary entry i saw back at yale the first grades ever i thought he might get a kick out of seeing it didn't realize how strong his reaction would be this like showing you the first paddle that was used her too to hurt a kid nothing i look at frowning this is not so i treat her so as it relic as an educator that's a tough thing to hear obvious placing the grades i give my students on spectrum that includes the horrifying practice of corporal punishment beating my students that's one thing i've learned from studying this topic for thirty years rewards like punishments are ultimately about power if if i if i threaten you with a punishment you do this or i'm gonna make you suffer obvious on trying to control you but if i say if you jump through these hopes here's the goody i'll give you
it should be obvious but it isn't always that that's just as much about control because its trickly you know because it captain sugar sirop we often don't realize this is just as much about doing too rather than working with healthy argues that tend to see motivation as a single entity when in reality there are two distinct forces which drive us one intrinsic the other extrinsic the first as a hero but the second is somewhat villain intrinsic motivation and general just means you get a kick out of whatever is you're doing it it means enjoy doing something for its own sake that can be reading a book solving a problem writing code painting picture helping someone who needs to help anything extremes motivation means you do so think this fruit for something extreme
two or outside of the task itself such as giving a reward that reward could be money a grade a certificate that could be praise good shop that's just a verbal doggie disk or fear of punishment which is another kind of extrinsic motivation so the question i mean can you could see some really wanted to motivate kids thinking was there are already interested in learning one right add an additional reward on top of that you don't like you for two reasons should be better than what i write the problem is that first of all you can't motivate someone other than yourself and the more you try the more you pay paradoxically undermine the very thing you're trying to promote so for example about doesnt studies have found the chill and who are rewarded or praised or less generous than their peers when you say good job i really like you shared your browning
miss diane you're so gender is good for you that kid just because a little more selfish because you talk the diane's feelings are irrelevant what matters is what you'll get from helping in this case a patronising pat on the head if you wanted to destroy a child's interest in reading you should give the kid a prize for reading a book a death nebula active and people don't like to be manipulated be it principally devalues the thing for which you got the reward now the kid figures while reading must sock if it's something they have to bribe me to do you have re framed it in the person said that i did so remarkable to watch little kids who have not yet been graded and raided and rank so on following their interests you're looking at intrinsic motivation in its
diluted form where little kids can't wait to figure out how to make sense of those squiggles on the restaurant menu they want to know as my daughter asked or their bones in my tommy me asking us until we give them down he biscuits for six as answering the question and then they start asking a different question which is how do we have to know this and working anyone to treat our children are students are employees and sometimes even ourselves in effect like lab animals it's not just dehumanizing the region it shows its counter productive not merely ineffective the students i teach at yale are far removed from the innocent children alfie describes after you of asian bees they have internalize the suit of grades as the prime motivation for paying attention in class i work the idea that they should learn because it brings and pleasure and stimulation is long forgotten they
we down a path leading them away from their own happiness question is not how much achievement do they under their belts its happened to their souls is what happened to the desire to figures stuff out that all human beings start with of them or joyless so we are in this situation where most educational systems are using grades what's a solution if you're in individual teacher you do what you can in the long run by organizing a mobilizing your appears to change the structure rather treating graze as effective nature like the weather that's just always gonna be with us and we have to cope with it it's a political decision and there are plenty of pilot projects and school showing that you got we can do without great but their students do much better without them two alfie more and more i started to believe it is possible to go back to a world without grades to education
like before as restyle started this new creed alfie understand that is a long road ahead but he believes the rest your is worth it he even things are the mental values goes like equal the and intrinsic worth depend on it think your primary goal should be to help everyone to succeed if you had to use grades than you would want everyone to get aids the idea that there is a little more distribution a bell curve since in the head of a lot of instructors even when they're not grading on a curve rating a curve is immoral well there's no other word for it to say that no matter how we everyone does some of you cannot get the best grade suggest that it's a war of all against all the more we tend to see life in adversarial terms where i can succeed only if you fail the more
all of us are dragged out of failure even the winners ultimately wounds so what should you take away from this episode first the external rewards no they're cracked up to be adding in a grade or a fit buzz might change her in the short term but it will cost you dearly pursuing success on those terms can rob you of the joy you may experience in your studies hobbes or even career and that means we need to find is to return to our internal rewards because you enjoy the sensation not some arbitrary number on an app taken ass to satisfy your intellectual curiosity not to an honourable and make a pot costs for the fun of it not taught the charts as people and as a society we need to find he is to reduce these systems of external rewards that we ve surrounded ourselves with its the
way to return to our childlike joy of learning just for sake just cause it's fun just cause we dig it and if you want to completely great free way to learn about the other lies of your mind then i really hope you'll come back for the next season of the happiness live with me doctor lorry santa
the happiness lab is color in and produced by ryan delhi the show is mixed and mastered by evan vila edited by julia barton fact checking by joseph fragment and far reaching music was composed by zachary sober special thanks to be all about carly mc liore heather fain maggie taylor my acquainted and jacob wastward happiness lab is brought you buy pushkin industries any doktor lorry centres a strange thing happened to me in the library while back i needed to pick up a few books this was before the quarantine a question was nagging me it had been nagging me for a long time who killed truth this truth problem it isn't just bad its deadly
it's also way older than it might seem this mystery its historical just and i'm a historian at harvard and staff failure at the new yorker has been a lot time trying to solve mysteries like this one so anyway i was at the library everything seem normal hum swiped my card the elevator down to the basement upon volumes of the shelves and then i saw it something i never seen before down here at the end of the rope hidden in the shadows green door was a sign on the door tarnished breastplate we barely make out the words it read the letter archive
everybody tv and radio confuse hello right right hello how are you no one's there the voice from the past voices ray we waited period prior woe heralded the discovery which assured and who want to ban time was granted in here he's lying before corona virus a congressional debate about the government's role in developing a vaccine is there any other term for them as socialized medicine old horror movies therein here too
punch cards from the forgotten history of the national data center network referred to as being that work is now and operate in record's records of bird songs considered america foremost songbird hermits rush all these voices from the past sound nobody is heard for decades maybe somewhere in this vast last archive this corridor of the mind find what looking for an answer to that question who the truth i decided to start a podcast it's called the last archive hotel stories from hundred years a history of america in our arguments about truth and evidence if you wanted i found mimi back here i'll leave the door unlocked the last archived coming brought to you by pushkin industries
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.