People are born learners, but our instinct to strive, learn, and grow can be quickly derailed by the kind of praise we receive early in life. Those praised for being "smart" learn that intelligence is a fixed, innate, effortless gift, and they often fail to reach their full potential. Others learn early that effort is the key to life-long learning and go on to exceed our expectations. Those are the findings of a social psychologist Carol Dweck's extensive research into the "Fixed Mindset" vs. the "Growth Mindset."
Carol separates the low-effort success from that achieved through "struggle." Contrary to conventional wisdom, she finds struggle beneficial to learning, while easily solved problems lead to lower drive and effort. She presents the findings of studies and empirical evidence that shows clear differences in effort, passion for learning, and success.
In one study, young students take a simple non-verbal test. Later, those praised for being "smart" show less confidence and enjoyment than those praised for "trying hard" and even a control group who receive impersonal praise for "a good score." And the effect was immediate: Students praised for effort performed better on the next test. The performance of those praised for intelligence declined, and they even lied about their high scores later. Another study of older students had similar findings.
To understand whether mindsets can be changed, Carol organized study sessions on math skills. One group was also taught "Brainology"--that "you can grow your intelligence" through effort. A control group received only math instruction. The control group's performance declined, while the Brainology group's performance improved, and they showed increased motivation to learn.
Carol concludes with a summary of the benefits of the Growth Mindset and advice for educators to support it.
Carol S. Dweck is a professor at Stanford University and a social psychologist. She graduated from Barnard College in 1967 and earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1972. She taught at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Illinois before joining the Stanford faculty in 2004.
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