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Dweck's Theory of Mindset

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Dweck's Theory of Mindset

How is your attitude limiting your potential? Are people with great achievements just born with greater potential? Or perhaps they worked harder to achieve their goals. Today we'll discuss Carol Dweck's theory of mindset, which argues that our mindset plays an important part in predicting achievement.

  • We will delve into Dweck's Mindset Theory of Learning, providing a mindset theory summary
  • To conclude, we will provide an evaluation of Dweck's mindset theory, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Dweck's mindset theory

Dweck's Theory of Mindset, two people holding puzzle pieces of a head together, StudySmarterChanging our mindset can impact our motivation to learn, freepik.com

Dweck's Mindset Theory Meaning

According to Carol Dweck, there are generally two ways you can view your abilities. Dweck's mindset theory summary can be condensed to:

You can either see your abilities through the lens of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Your mindset impacts how you react to successes and failures as well as your motivation to engage in new challenges that can help you develop.

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

A fixed mindset is characterised by the belief that our abilities can't be changed, they are determined by our genetics.

We are either talented or untalented and that determines our outcomes. A person with a fixed mindset that experiences a setback is likely to take it personally and believe that making a mistake means being less capable. People with a fixed mindset are therefore likely to avoid challenging activities that come with a risk of failure.

A growth mindset refers to a belief that our abilities are flexible and can change through practice.

A growth mindset involves seeing your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of indicators of your worth. People with a growth mindset will get excited by the prospect of being challenged and interpret failures in a more positive way. They are also more likely to try new challenging activities because they know that no one starts out as an expert and it takes effort to learn and develop.

Mindset theory and success

As you can see, people with the growth mindset might be more motivated to learn compared to people with a fixed mindset, because in the process of learning, mistakes are inevitable. Greater motivation and a more positive attitude can in turn predict greater academic success.

Blackwell et al. (2007) found that across a sample of 373 seventh graders, students who believed that intelligence can change (malleable) achieved higher grades in the next two years of learning, while students that believed that our intelligence is fixed showed no improvement in grades in the next 2 years.

Your mindset can change depending on the context, it's possible for a person to hold a mindset more on the growth side for one activity, but more on the fixed side for another, due to previous experiences with those activities. If you were told by your teachers that you're not talented at math you might adopt a belief that to be successful at math you need to be talented.

Dweck's Theory of Mindset, scale showing the different growth mindsets for two activities, StudySmarterYour mindset can change depending on the context, StudySmarter Originals, Alicja Blaszkiewicz

The good news is, our mindset can change, by being self-aware of how we react to new challenges and failure we can reframe our thoughts to see failure as an opportunity to learn rather than evidence for our lack of ability.

Blackwell et al. (2007) found that the children's grades improved after they were taught the growth mindset, while the control group that wasn't taught about the growth mindset showed a decrease in grades.

The role of nature and nurture in shaping our potential

Dweck's theory highlights the importance of nurture, our environment, thoughts and the effort we put in when faced with new challenges. According to Carol Dweck, adopting a mindset that encourages growth and a positive attitude to learning is perhaps more important than our innate potential.

"It's not always people that start out the smartest that end up the smartest" - Carol Dweck

The role of praise and self-efficacy beliefs in learning

What we are praised for, often early in childhood, affects what mindset we develop towards learning.

Praising achievement

If we are praised for our successes and labelled as "a bright child" we begin to only value experiences that confirm that we are talented instead of looking for learning opportunities that come with a risk of failing. In the long-term, that fixed mindset attitude is not beneficial for our development.

Praising efforts

To facilitate a growth mindset, educators should praise learners for their efforts rather than for achievement. Focusing on rewarding effort encourages children to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, it facilitates the development of persistence and resilience in learning, which is characteristic of the growth mindset.

Moreover, praising learners for the effort they put in instead of achievement can increase their sense of self-efficacy, which will make them more confident when approaching challenging situations in the future.

Self-efficacy refers to our belief that we are capable of achieving something. People with a good sense of self-efficacy are confident that they have the resources necessary to overcome challenges and succeed.

Cimpian et al. (2007) found that preschoolers which were praised for their drawings in general terms (e.g. "you are a good drawer") showed less persistence after being criticised and felt worse about their abilities. While preschoolers who were praised for their effort showed more persistence after being criticised and evaluated their skills more positively in the long term.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Dweck's Mindset Theory

Could the solution to increasing students' performance be as simple as changing their mindset? On one hand, mindset theory could equip young learners with self-efficacy and self-esteem to help them succeed at school and later in life. On the other hand, many have criticised the theory for being too simplistic.

Evaluation Points of Dweck's Mindset Theory

Let's consider some of the evaluation points of Dweck's mindset theory, analysing the educational implications, issues with reductionism, and mixed evidence.

Educational implications

Dweck's mindset theory provides educators with clear takeaways for their classrooms. Teachers should encourage effort instead of achievement, create a safe environment for making mistakes and always remind students that if they are not good at something, it only means that they are not good at it yet, but by all means can improve.

Many studies have supported mindset-based interventions in educational contexts to be effective in predicting performance even cross-culturally (Sisk et al., 2008).

Reductionistic approach

Some critics of Dweck's theory argue that this approach reduces success to mindset and ignores other important factors like children's access to education, resources, socio-economic background and other privileges.

Approach only focusing on mindset can shift the blame on kids from disadvantaged backgrounds or with fewer resources, instead of acknowledging the role of an unfair system. If we assume that everyone's performance can be explained by their mindset then we need to assume all other factors are equal for everyone, which is often not the case.

Mixed evidence

While Dweck's studies showed the potential positive impact of mindset interventions on students' performance, many studies since have failed to replicate the results. The effects are usually smaller than predicted.

Data from 2 meta-analyses found the effectiveness of mindset interventions in schools to be weak (Sisk et al., 2008).

However, some still argue that in real life even small improvements make a difference. Overall, the effectiveness of mindset based interventions is still under question.

Dweck's Theory of Mindset StudySmarterChanging mindsets may help those wishing to improve their abilities


Dweck’s Mindset Theory of learning - Key Takeaways

  • You can see your abilities through the lens of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People holding a growth mindset believe their abilities can change with practice, while people with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities can't be changed, and are down to genetics.
  • A growth mindset can predict success because it impacts our motivation to learn. Blackwell et al. (2007) found that mindset predicted academic performance in 7th graders after 2 years. Mindset can also be changed. Blackwell et al. (2007) found that a change in mindset led to a change in grades.
  • Dweck's theory stresses the importance of nurture in academic achievement.
  • We can hold a different mindset depending on the context. Dweck's theory stresses the importance of nurture in academic achievement. Praising learners for their efforts is more effective than praising them for their achievements.
  • Dweck's mindset theory has important educational implications, however evidence in support of the theory is mixed and shows weaker effects than initially expected. Dweck's theory has also been criticised for being reductionistic and not acknowledging other factors that impact children's success in education.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dweck's Theory of Mindset

Carol Dweck's theory argues people holding a growth mindset believe their abilities can change with practice, while people with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities can't be changed.


Fixed mindset and growth mindset. 

People with a fixed mindset don't believe their abilities can improve and are less likely to engage in challenging activities, while people with a growth mindset believe their abilities can change with practice and see setbacks as an opportunity to learn.

Having a growth mindset means believing that you can always improve with practice, seeing setbacks as learning opportunities and being excited to take risks and engage in new, challenging activities. For example, taking art classes even if art is not something you are already good at.

1. Belief that our abilities are flexible.

2. Belief that everyone can improve with practice.

3. Seeing mistakes and failure as learning opportunities. 

4. Being excited to engage in challenging activities.

5. Focus on the process of learning instead of outcomes.

Final Dweck's Theory of Mindset Quiz

Question

What are the two types of mindset proposed by Carol Dweck?

Show answer

Answer

A fixed mindset and a growth mindset

Show question

Question

What are the characteristics of a growth mindset?

Show answer

Answer

  • A belief that our abilities are flexible and everyone can improve with practice.
  • Seeing mistakes and failure as learning opportunities.
  • Being excited to engage in challenging activities.
  • Focus on the process of learning instead of outcomes.

Show question

Question

What characterises a fixed mindset?

Show answer

Answer

  • A belief that our abilities can't be changed - we are either talented or untalented and that determines our outcomes. 
  • A belief that making mistakes means being less capable. 
  • Avoidance of challenging activities that come with a risk of failure.

Show question

Question

How is mindset related to academic success?

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Answer

  • People with the growth mindset might be more motivated to learn compared to people with a fixed mindset, because in the process of learning mistakes are inevitable. 
  • Greater motivation and a more positive attitude can in turn predict greater academic success. 

Show question

Question

How can students' mindset predict their academic performance according to Blackwell et al. (2007)?

Show answer

Answer

Students who believed that intelligence can change achieved higher grades in the next two years of learning, while students that believed that our intelligence is fixed showed no improvement in grades.

Show question

Question

Which statements are true?

Show answer

Answer

People with a fixed mindset towards maths believe that none of their abilities can be changed, in any context.

Show question

Question

What are the benefits of changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

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Answer

By changing how we view learning and failure we can improve our motivation and attitude towards learning, which in long term can help us succeed and improve through practice.

Show question

Question

According to Dweck's theory is nature or nurture more important in predicting academic achievement?

Show answer

Answer

Dweck's theory highlights the importance of nurture. According to Carol Dweck adopting a mindset that encourages effort and a positive attitude to learning is perhaps more important than our innate potential.


Show question

Question

How can students benefit from learning about the growth mindset according to Blackwell et al. (2007)?

Show answer

Answer

Blackwell et al. (2007) found that the children's grades improved after they were taught the growth mindset, while the control group that wasn't taught about the growth mindset showed a decrease in grades.


Show question

Question

What is self-efficacy?

Show answer

Answer

Self-efficacy refers to our belief that we are capable of achieving something. 


Show question

Question

What are the benefits of praising children for their effort?

Show answer

Answer

Rewarding effort develops a growth mindset in children because it:

- encourages children to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them

- facilitates the development of persistence in learning

- increases children's sense of self-efficacy 

Show question

Question

How can praising children impact their mindset towards learning?

Show answer

Answer

Praising children for success can encourage the development of a fixed mindset and discourage children from seeking challenges that come with a risk of failure.


Praising children for effort encourages a growth mindset. It can encourage children to take risks and enjoy the process of learning.

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of Dweck's mindset theory?

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Answer

- educational implications

- cross-cultural evidence


Show question

Question

What are the limitations of Dweck's mindset theory?

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Answer

  • Dweck's theory has also been criticised for being reductionistic and not acknowledging other factors that impact children's success in education.


  • Mixed evidence - Data from 2 meta-analyses found the effectiveness of mindset interventions in schools to be weak (Sisk et al., 2008). 

Show question

Question

How does praising for success affect preschoolers according to Cimpian et al. (2007)?

Show answer

Answer

Cimpian et al. (2007) found that preschoolers which were praised for being successful at drawing ("you are a good drawer") showed less persistence after being criticised and felt worse about their abilities.  

Show question

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