• Question: There's a lot of talk about growth mindset in education at the moment. I'm pretty sure there's something in it, but to have an impact we'd need more than a few posters and motivational assemblies! What do we understand about attitude to learning and 'acheivement'? What evidence is there?

    Asked by eerussell to Michael, Katherine, Daniel, Catriona, Anna on 13 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: Anna Simmonds

      Anna Simmonds answered on 13 Apr 2015:

      This comes from Dr Carol Dweck’s work on self-belief about intelligence. A fixed mindset describes a self-belief that your intelligence is innate and cannot be changed, so learning is viewed as a waste of time. A growth mindset describes a self-belief that intelligence can be developed and improved through learning and working hard.

      Dweck’s research has shown that people have different attitudes to challenge according to their mindset. People with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenge as, in their view, failing at a task reveals their lack of ability and they don’t believe they can change that. People with growth mindsets actively look for challenge as a way to learn and improve.

      In a report of six studies, Mueller and Dweck tested students who were either praised for their intelligence or for their effort after correct responses. Children who were praised for the intelligence tended to avoid challenges, because they wanted to continue to look good compared to their peers. Children who were praised for their effort preferred tasks that were challenging, as they wanted to learn. As the task became harder, children in the first group performed worse after their mistakes compared to the group that had heard effort was important. Enjoyment and persistence decreased in the ability-praised group, whereas they continued for the effort-praised group. (Mueller and Dweck, 1998, Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75: 33-52, pdf available online).

      Dweck promotes “the power of yet”. Rather than thinking they can’t do something, Dweck encourages teachers and parents to add ‘yet’ to any negative feedback. Based on her research she also recommends praising a child for their effort, rather than commenting on their ability (Gunderson et al., 2013, Parent praise to 1- to 3-year-olds predicts children’s motivational frameworks 5 years later, Child Development 84(5):1526-41. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12064).

      Another group of researchers examined brain activity (ERPs) of students who were asked questions and then received feedback on whether they were correct or not. If they were wrong, they were told what the correct answer was. Students with a growth mindset (as judged by a questionnaire) showed enhanced attention during post-error feedback, when they were told the correct answer.
      (Moser et al., Mind Your Errors: Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments, 2011, Psychological Science, 22:1484-9).
      In the paper, they include the quote popularly attributed to Henry Ford: Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.

      In another study these authors induced mindsets, rather than using a questionnaire. Participants were randomly assigned to read that intelligence was either malleable or fixed and then carried out a reaction-time task while EEG was recorded. Inducing a growth mindset resulted in enhanced attention to task-relevant stimuli, whereas inducing a fixed mindset enhanced attention to responses. In a press release for this study, Schroder said, “Giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance. In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning.” (Hans S. Schroder, Tim P. Moran, M. Brent Donnellan, Jason S. Moser. Mindset induction effects on cognitive control: A neurobehavioral investigation. Biological Psychology, 2014; 103: 27 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2014.08.004)

      So there is evidence to support the advantages of growth mindsets over fixed mindsets, and there are practical steps students, teachers and parents can take to help develop growth mindsets. This pdf of an interview with Dr Carol Dweck has lots of advice: http://www.ludworth.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/DEVELOPING-A-GROWTH-MINDSET-An-interview-with-Dr-Carol-Dweck1.pdf

    • Photo: Daniel Ansari

      Daniel Ansari answered on 15 Apr 2015:

      Here is a very clear TED talk about Mindset and the evidence base by Carol Dweck: http://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en