There are two main mind-sets

Apparently a ‘ growth mind-set ‘ always trumps a ‘fixed mind -set’


Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that people generally fall into two groups when it comes to thinking about intelligence (so called implicit theories of intelligence). The first group see intelligence as a fixed entity. That is, they view intelligence as wholly innate, hard-wired and impervious to change. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or indeed talent, are fixed traits. They then tend to spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of investing time and effort in developing them. They also tend to believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. When fixed ‘mind setters’ experience failure or get stuck on a particular problem, they blame their lack of intelligence for their inability to progress and simply give up. So they lack resilience (which is regarded as important in students if they are to succeed in their learning and in the job market). Dweck seeks to demonstrate that these fixed mind setters are plain wrong in their approach.

The other type of mind-set is a growth mind-set.  Growth mind setters believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent amount to just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities. They view intelligence as flexible, malleable and incremental. Success to these so-called ‘growth mind setters’ is about hard work, learning from failure and not being restricted by a view that intelligence is innate, fixed and unchangeable.

Based on years of research by Stanford University’s Dr. Dweck, Lisa Blackwell Ph.D., and their colleagues, there is a bank of evidence that students who learn this latter mind-set show greater motivation in school, achieve better grades, and higher overall test scores.

In one study, Blackwell and colleagues followed hundreds of students making the transition to 7th (US) grade. They found that students with a growth mind-set were more motivated to learn and exert effort, and outperformed those with a fixed mind set in maths—a gap that continued to increase over the two-year period. Those with the two mind-sets had entered 7th grade with similar past achievement, but because of their mind-sets their maths grades pulled apart during this challenging time. (Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78. 246-263, Study 1.)

In another study, also with adolescents, Blackwell and her colleagues divided students into two groups for a workshop on the brain and study skills. Half of them, the control group, were taught about the stages of memory; the other half received training in the growth mind set (how the brain grows with learning to make you smarter) and how to apply this idea to their schoolwork. Three times as many students in the growth mind-set group showed an increase in effort and engagement compared with the control group. After the training, the control group continued to show declining grades, but the growth-mind-set group showed a clear rebound in their grades. (Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78. 246-263, Study 2).

In one study neuroscientists tracked students during their teenage years. For many students, they found substantial changes in performance on verbal and non-verbal IQ tests. Using neuroimaging, they found corresponding changes in the density of neurons in the relevant brain areas for these students. In other words, an increase in neuronal connections in the brain accompanied an increase in IQ-test performance, while a decrease in neuronal connections in the brain accompanied a decrease in IQ-test performance. (Ramsden, S., Richardson, F.M., Josse, G., Thomas, M., Ellis, C., Shakeshart, C., Seguier, M., & Price, C. (2011). Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain. Nature 479, 113–116.

See Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point etc) has also referred to Dweck’s research. He writes

‘Five years ago, Dweck did a study at the University of Hong Kong, where all classes are conducted in English. She and her colleagues approached a large group of social-sciences students, told them their English-proficiency scores, and asked them if they wanted to take a course to improve their language skills. One would expect all those who scored poorly to sign up for the remedial course. The University of Hong Kong is a demanding institution, and it is hard to do well in the social sciences without strong English skills. Curiously, however, only the ones who believed in malleable intelligence expressed interest in the class. The students who believed that their intelligence was a fixed trait were so concerned about appearing to be deficient that they preferred to stay home.’

“Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb,” Dweck writes, “for what could be dumber than giving up a chance to learn something that is essential for your own success?”’


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