The Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets
Mindset exists on a spectrum, and individuals’ possess unique and distinct mindsets for different attributes of themselves and others, such as intelligence, personality, shyness, social skills, and even for personal competencies, such as the ability to quit smoking. It has been demonstrated that individuals possessing each of these mindsets tend to be evenly distributed in most populations and that their mindsets normally tend to be stable over time. However, research has also shown that the environment can have a powerful impact on mindset, and with hard work and effort, people can learn to create a lasting change in their own mindset and to have a positive impact on the mindset of the people around them.
The Fixed Intelligence Mindset: Some people tend to believe that they only have a certain amount of intelligence which is inherently stable and unchanging throughout their lives (like a person’s adult eye color). In this mindset, known as the fixed mindset, despite any superficial learning someone has acquired, they really just have as much as much intelligence today as they did the day they were born, they can’t do anything to change it, and thus there are naturally two kinds of people out there in the word: the intelligent and the stupid. This mindset leads people to constantly worry about how much of this fixed intelligence that they have, and places their achievement goals on thinking and feeling like they have enough of it, instead of on learning and growing more skilled over time. Challenges become a threat to their sense of ability and self-worth, because failure indicates a fundamental lack of aptitude, now and forever, and thus people with fixed mindsets will usually pass up learning opportunities if they might reveal a lack of understanding or entail errors on their part. Easy, predictable successes are seen as ideal, and these fixed-mindset individuals are quick to assume a lack of intelligence when problems arise, since low inherent intelligence is the only possible interpretation for challenge and failure.
The Growth Intelligence Mindset: For other people, intelligence is not simply a static trait that they inherently possess or lack to a certain degree, but something that can be grown and enhanced over time through effort, learning, and support. For these growth-mindset individuals, intelligence is really just an interconnected series of skills, which can be practiced and improved over time just like any other skill. It is not that these people fail to recognize that different people tend to learn at a faster or slower pace in specific areas. It’s just that they focus on the idea that everyone, with guidance and effort, can increase their intellectual abilities significantly in any given domain. This mindset makes students want to learn and enjoy exploring new concepts and challenges. After all, if they can increase their intelligence and ability simply through effort, why not try and work hard to do so? In fact, students with a growth mindset will readily sacrifice an opportunity to look smart, in favor of learning something new. They value their grades as much as the fixed mindset students do, but they value learning and personal-development even more. They have no reason to fear challenge or difficulty, as difficulty only indicates that their present skills and approach are not yet sufficiently developed for the task at hand. They seem to be free of the success/failure dichotomy which is so central to the fixed mindset students.
Numerous studies have demonstrated a causal link between a growth mindset and academic achievement, and students possessing it have a distinct advantage over those with a fixed mindset, especially in challenging situations. Intelligence mindset can be used to predict academic achievement in math and science, and exercises to learn a growth mindset have been demonstrated effective in improving academic performance over time.
Research has shown that, even when students start with equal academic ability, intelligence mindset shapes their responses to intellectual challenges: encouraging them to set learning goals over performance goals, to implement effective learning strategies vs. useless ones, to believe in the utility vs. futility of effort, and to make optimistic over pessimistic explanations for challenge and failure.
Sample Reference (Contact us for an extensive list of references).
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and Math/Science Achievement. Prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education math and science grades.