Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth and fixed mindsets: the background research
Seven years ago, in 2007, a study in the American scientific journal Child Development showed that if you teach students that their intelligence can grow and increase, they do better in school. (1)
“All children develop a belief about their own intelligence” was the claim being made by research psychologist Carol Dweck from Stanford University. “Some students start thinking of their intelligence as something fixed, as carved in stone,” Dweck said. “They worry, ‘Do I have enough of it?'” Dweck called this a “fixed mindset” of intelligence.
“Other children think intelligence is something you can develop your whole life,” she said. “You can learn. You can stretch. You can keep mastering new things.” She called this a “growth mindset” of intelligence: the belief that intelligence is ‘malleable’.
Is intelligence linked to academic success?
Dweck wondered whether a child’s belief about intelligence might have anything to do with academic success. First, she assessed several hundred students going into seventh grade (aged 12-13), to find out which students believed their intelligence was unchangeable, and which children believed their intelligence could grow. Then she recorded their maths grades over the next two years.
What she saw among those with the growth mindset were steadily increasing maths grades over that time. But that wasn’t the case for those with the so-called “fixed mindset.” They showed a decrease in their maths grades.
This led Dweck and her colleague, Lisa Blackwell from Columbia University, to ask another question: “If we gave students a growth mindset, if we taught them how to think about their intelligence, would that benefit their grades?”
So, about 100 seventh graders, all doing poorly in maths, were randomly assigned to workshops on good study skills. One workshop gave lessons on how to study well. The other taught about the expanding nature of intelligence and the brain. The students in the latter group “learned that the brain actually forms new connections every time you learn something new, and that over time, this makes you smarter.” Basically, the students were given a mini-neuroscience course on how the brain works.
By the end of the semester, the group of kids who had been taught that the brain can grow smarter had significantly better maths grades than the other group.
“When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections,” Dweck said. “When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing.”
Teach children they’re in charge of their brain growth
Dweck said this new mindset changed the kids’ attitude towards learning and their willingness to put in effort.
Duke University psychologist, Steven Asher, agrees. “Teaching children that they’re in charge of their own intellectual growth motivates a child to work hard,” he says. “If you think about a child who’s coping with an especially challenging task, I don’t think there’s anything better in the world than that child hearing from a parent or from a teacher the words, ‘You’ll get there.’ And that, I think, is the spirit of what this is all about.”
Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, gives parents and teachers specific ways to teach the growth mindset of intelligence to children.
(1) Child Development, 2007 Jan-Feb;78(1):246-63.?”Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention.”?Blackwell LS, Trzesniewski KH, Dweck CS.
Abstract of the original article provided by the authors
Two studies explored the role of implicit theories of intelligence in adolescents’ mathematics achievement. In Study 1 with 373 7th graders, the belief that intelligence is malleable (incremental theory) predicted an upward trajectory in grades over the two years of junior high school, while a belief that intelligence is fixed (entity theory) predicted a flat trajectory. A mediational model including learning goals, positive beliefs about effort, and causal attributions and strategies was tested. In Study 2, an intervention teaching an incremental theory to 7th graders (N=48) promoted positive change in classroom motivation, compared with a control group (N=43). Simultaneously, students in the control group displayed a continuing downward trajectory in grades, while this decline was reversed for students in the experimental group.
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