Researchers from the University of Nevada, in Las Vegas examined the effects of telling people that they can learn a task.

First, the details.

  • Participants were divided in 3 groups that practiced a balance task after receiving 1 of the following instructions.
    • The task would reflect an inherent ability (IA group).
    • The task represents an acquirable skill (AS group).
    • No ability-related instructions were given — control group.
  • The groups practice for 2 days.

And, the results.

  • During 2 days of practice:
    • The AS and IA groups showed greater improvement in performance compared to the control group.
  • On Day 3:
    • The AS group tended to demonstrate generally more effective balance performance than the control group.
    • The AS group showed increasingly greater effectiveness vs the IA group.
    • Moreover, AS group participants made higher-frequency (reflexive) movement adjustments than participants in the other groups, indicating a greater automaticity (independent of their will) in the control of their movements.

The bottom line?

It’s not clear from the abstract whether the differences between groups ever reached statistical significance. However, the authors concluded, “Learning was enhanced by instructions portraying the task as a learnable skill.”

Success or failure is often affected by what we believe we can or can’t accomplish.

Others who have observed the effects of behavioral counseling tell us, “We can improve our self-efficacy by developing skills, having role models, and getting encouragement from others.”

1/4/10 21:37 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.