Carol S. Dweck is a professor at Stanford University whose work crosses multiple disciplines in psychology, including social, developmental, and personality psychology. Spanning 30+ years, her research examines the development of self-beliefs—and the ways in which those beliefs affect behavior and achievement.
Dweck’s most significant contribution to the field relates to beliefs about intelligence. Her extensive research, detailed in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), indicates that beliefs about ability and intelligence vary greatly. She refers to two specific sets of self-beliefs as “mindsets,” or the views that individuals hold about their potential. On one end of a continuum are those who think that success is based on innate, or inborn, abilities and that intelligence does not change. According to Dweck, people who hold this view have a “fixed” mindset. Others believe that success is based on effort and continual learning and that intelligence can change. These beliefs are said to reflect a “growth” mindset.
Dweck’s research indicates that mindset has significant effects on behavior and performance, particularly in the face of challenging tasks. Her work has shown that most people who have fixed mindsets avoid challenging situations when given the choice because they are very concerned about failing. From the perspective of a fixed mindset, failure indicates a lack of ability, and therefore a lack of capability or intelligence. People who have a growth mindset, however, view struggle or failure as a natural part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve. Dweck believes that mindset can impact all areas of a person’s life, from academic success to personal and professional choices.
In the academic arena, mindset plays an important role. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to continue to persist when they struggle, while those who believe their intelligence is fixed are more likely to give up. Dweck has shown, too, that cues from parents and educators about performance can impact students’ beliefs and future actions.
Consider this example: a student completes a challenging mathematics problem successfully and her teacher offers praise by saying, “Great job! Clearly, you are very good at math.” What effect might this feedback have on the student’s beliefs? Dweck’s research indicates that this type of feedback—praising innate ability—reinforces the fixed mindset and the belief that people are born either with mathematics skills or without them. Further, she has shown that praise that reinforces this belief undermines students’ motivation and future learning, leading them to avoid more challenging tasks to protect themselves from failure.
Now consider an alternative: when the student completes the challenging mathematics problem, the teacher responds by saying, “Great job! You must have worked hard at that problem! Nice effort!” How might this feedback have a different effect on the student’s beliefs? Dweck has demonstrated that this response—praising effort instead of intelligence—reinforces the belief that success is developed through persistent effort. Dweck’s research also shows that even when a student fails at a task, this type of feedback indicates that struggle and failure are normal, and that effort is a crucial part of eventual success.
In this video clip, Dweck discusses her findings about the differences between the growth and fixed mindsets and the impact these mindsets have on students.
In the fixed mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that; nothing can be done to change it. Many years of research have now shown that when people adopt the fixed mindset, it can limit their success. They become over-concerned with proving their talents and abilities, hiding deficiencies, and reacting defensively to mistakes or setbacks-because deficiencies and mistakes imply a (permanent) lack of talent or ability. People in this mindset will actually pass up important opportunities to learn and grow if there is a risk of unmasking weaknesses.
In the growth mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence. For them, it’s not about looking smart or grooming their image. It’s about a commitment to learning–taking informed risks and learning from the results, surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to grow, looking frankly at your deficiencies and seeking to remedy them. Most great business leaders have had this mindset, because building and maintaining excellent organizations in the face of constant change requires it.”