Growth Mindset

The Basic Idea

They say you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Of course, this statement fails to account for the constraints and limitations to which everyone is, to some extent, subjected but the basic idea behind it is a good one. Put simply, mindset matters. The way we think about ourselves, our abilities, our successes, and our failures has a significant influence over our achievements as well as how we learn.

People’s view of their own abilities lies on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is a fixed mindset and on the other end is a growth mindset. A fixed mindset refers to believing that your abilities and intelligence are inborn and unchangeable, whereas a growth mindset refers to believing that, with hard work and dedication, we have the capacity to expand our range of abilities and improve to be able to solve problems or complete tasks that we once found too challenging. People with fixed mindsets are more likely to give up when faced with failure or when they encounter a problem they find particularly challenging. This is because a fixed mindset includes the line of thinking that there is a distinct limit to one’s capabilities that cannot be changed. However, people with growth mindsets are more likely to view failures as learning experiences and a valuable step towards self-improvement.

A growth mindset is viewed as more adaptive than a fixed mindset because it emphasizes that we are not defined by our failures. The idea that our failures are a result of our innate characteristics and are a reflection of who we are can be extremely stressful and detrimental to our overall well-being. Viewing failures as learning experiences and taking pleasure in the process of learning is far more beneficial for our mental health. Additionally, a growth mindset encourages us to push boundaries and to persevere, even when things are challenging. It is more conducive to creativity and innovation and prompts us to set higher standards for ourselves.

In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues.

– Carol Dweck in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

History

The concept of a growth mindset was born from the research of psychologist Carol Dweck. It has been a major focus of her career, but its development began long before her graduation from Yale.1 Dweck spent her childhood in Brooklyn, where she attended primary school at P.S. 153.2 There, she had her first encounter with what she came to dub “fixed mindset”. Her sixth-grade teacher had the class take an IQ test, the results of which determined much of their experience that school year. The students were made to sit in order of IQ and those with the highest scores were given special privileges. Dweck recalls that this emphasis on IQ made her feel as though her grades determined her self-worth. It placed significant stress on the students, who were terrified that getting a poor grade would end their high status in the class.3 After pursuing higher education in the field of psychology, Dweck came to the conclusion that IQ tests, something her teachers had put so much stock in, could not accurately capture the construct of intelligence.4 She disagreed with the view of intelligence as something innate and unchangeable. In fact, she hypothesized that holding that mindset was limiting. Dweck proposed an alternative to a fixed mindset: a growth mindset.

Dweck posited that intelligence could be developed. Like a muscle, she believed that if you work it, it will get stronger. The basic theory behind growth mindset is that we should approach difficult tasks by recognizing that we may need to work harder or change our approach if we want to succeed. This mindset will lead us to put more effort into completing the task and encourage us to try out new strategies and techniques to reach our goal. These behaviors will, in turn, result in more engagement and increased performance. In a positive feedback loop, this improved performance will reinforce the idea that our intelligence can be expanded.5 This is in contrast to a fixed mindset, which may cause people to think that a challenging task or problem is outside of their capabilities, so they may as well not even try. This mindset results in decreased effort, which leads to lower performance. This outcome reinforces the idea that intelligence is fixed.6

Through her research, Dweck has found empirical evidence in support of the growth mindset. One study was conducted in a junior high school classroom – much like the one where Dweck first recognized the negative repercussions of fixed mindset. The students in a math class were split into two groups. Those in the first group, the experimental condition, learned about growth mindset and were taught to view intelligence as something that can be developed. They were also given advice about how to study more effectively. The second group of students, the control condition, were given the same study tips, but were not taught about growth mindset. This intervention lasted eight weeks and at the end, the children who had learned about growth mindset showed significantly greater improvement in their performance in math class than did those in the control condition. While these results demonstrate that growth mindset fosters success, Dweck points out that it is just one factor in improving academic performance. Good teachers and a well-designed curriculum are also necessary for creating an environment that is conducive to learning.7

People

   

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is credited with developing the concept of growth mindset. Dweck is an American psychologist and professor at Stanford University who draws on the areas of motivation, personality, and developmental psychology in her research on mindset.8 In 2006, she published her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, in which she presents her findings and explores their potential applications. She also launched a website called MindSet Works, which offers tools for parents and teachers aiming to cultivate a growth mindset in their children and students.

Consequences

Carol Dweck’s goal in developing the theory behind growth mindset is to reduce academic stress and foster an enjoyment of learning among students. She has used this theory to create resources and interventions for parents and teachers to use to promote this mindset among their children and students. Dweck believes that doing so will improve students’ well-being by helping them to recognize that they are not defined by their failures, as well as improve their academic performance by encouraging them to persevere when things get tough. Growth mindset pushes people to set higher goals for themselves and to work harder to achieve them. By implementing these interventions in classrooms, more children will develop this mindset, which may lead them to become more confident, productive adults.

Controversies

The concept of growth mindset is not universally accepted. There has been mixed evidence as to whether or not the results of Dweck’s mindset-focused intervention can be replicated. Some studies found similar findings to Dweck’s, such that students who received the intervention exhibited greater improvements in academic performance than those who did not, while other studies failed to demonstrate any such effect.9 Dweck points out that the way the concept of growth mindsets is applied in classroom settings matters. It is not enough to simply teach students about growth mindset; the environment itself needs to be conducive to its development. The example she gives is that if a poster explaining growth mindset is taped to a classroom wall, but students are still afraid to make mistakes, there will be no improvement.10 It is not enough to simply teach the concept, teachers must change their approach to education and the ways in which they interact with students to allow for this mindset to take hold.

Sources

  1. McInerney, L. (2015). Carol Dweck floats like a butterfly but her intellect stings like a bee. Schools Week. https://schoolsweek.co.uk/carol-dweck/
  2. Trei, L. (2007). New study yield instructive results on how mindset affects learning. Stanford News. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/february7/dweck-020707.html
  3. See 2
  4. See 2
  5. Growth Mindset. Mindset Scholars Network. https://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/learning-mindsets/growth-mindset/#
  6. See 5
  7. See 2
  8. See 2
  9. Denworth, L. (2019). Debate Arises over Teaching “Growth Mindsets” To Motivate Students. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/debate-arises-over-teaching-growth-mindsets-to-motivate-students/
  10. See 9

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