• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 23rd November, 2007

The rich get richer (and the poor get the blame)

Whether it's a question of academic performance or being good at games, children who do well tend to be confident about their abilities. And children who are confident about their abilities in either quarter, tend to do well. It seems to be that simple: the rich get richer.Over the past 20 years a number of research studies have proved the point: an ego boost is not only the prize of a good performance on the athletic tracks or in a math exam, it also helps children to perform better next time around.Called the reciprocal effects model (REM), this phenomenon was recently examined in an Anglo-German study which tracked the progress of 1,135 German children for two and a half years from around the age of nine. As the children moved from grade 3 to 6, a team of researchers led by Professor Herbert Marsh at Oxford University monitored the level of their self-confidence in sports, measured their physical ability and collected their grades in physical education classes. They found that children’s confidence in their athletic ability predicted their actual performance in sport and vice versa. And they found this reciprocal relationship in children at every interval between the ages of nine and 12 and in boys and girls alike. It seems that the rich are always going to get richer, whether the currency is money, academic success or sporting achievement. The bigger question in light of this blunt message is how to keep the poor from getting poorer. The authors of the Anglo-German study make only a brief nod in this direction at the end of their report. They suggest that teachers pay attention to the twin pillars of success: students’ self confidence and their performance. Alas, they don’t offer any specific advice about what to do when both start tumbling.• Summary of “Longitudinal Study of Preadolescent Sport Self-Concept and Performance: Reciprocal Effects and Causal Ordering” by Herbert W. Marsh, Erin Gerlach, Ulrich Trautwein, Oliver Ludtke, and Wolf-Dietrich Brettschneider in Child Development, Volume 78, Issue 6, pp1640-1656, November/December 2007.The work reported in Child Development was conducted, in part, when Herbert Morris was a visiting scholar at the Center for Educational Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. It drew support from the University of Western Sydney and the Max Planck Institute. The data came from a German project directed by Wolf-Dietrich Brettschneider in the Department for Sport and Health, University of Paderborn.

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