Our beliefs about our intelligence can have dramatic positive or negative effects on what we try to learn and whether or not we persevere. That is one of many learnings by Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, who has conducted extensive research on peoples’ beliefs about intelligence. She finds that people tend to fall into one of two categories based on their belief about their own intellect. One mindset she terms the ‘Fixed’ mindset. Individuals with this mindset believe that they have a fixed quotient for intellect, a set amount and that they cannot change it. On the other hand, individuals with a ‘Growth’ mindset, believe that their intelligence is a factor with potential i.e., intelligence is a capacity that can change and grow over the course of a lifetime.
The way parents and teachers convey feedback and especially praise to children is a reflection of their beliefs about intelligence and can significantly impact their child or students’ attitudes toward learning. Here’s one experiment that Dr. Dweck conducted that powerfully brings home this point. She took a group of 5th grade students and divided them into two groups. Each group was told they were going to take a test. After taking a simple IQ test, the students in Group One were each told that they did very well on the test and must be really smart. The students in Group Two were each told that they did very well on the test and must have really worked hard.
Then, the students in each group were asked: “Would you like to take another test that is a bit harder?” And guess what happened? The 5th graders in the group praised for being smart on average were reluctant to take the harder test while the 5th graders in the group praised for effort on average were eager to take the harder test. When the harder test was administered to both groups, the group praised for effort outperformed the group praised for its intelligence! If you think your intelligence is fixed, then you tend to avoid situations (like a harder test) such that you may not succeed and hence conclude that you were not smart after all. If you think your intelligence can grow, then if you try and do not succeed at something, you conclude that you need to work harder or figure out a different approach- in other words, you are much more likely to persevere – especially when trying to learn new skills or information.
The good news is that a growth mindset can be cultivated and fostered. Parents and teachers can foster this mindset in their children by acknowledging and encouraging effort. Dr. Dweck has developed a curriculum to encourage growth mindsets. Check out her website: http://www.brainology.us/default.aspx