Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed. Students with a growth mindset understand they can get smarter through hard work, the use of effective strategies, and help from others when needed. It is contrasted with a fixed mindset: the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that is set in stone at birth.

Why does it matter?

Students’ beliefs about intelligence have important consequences for how they experience school and how they respond to setbacks and adversity. When students hold a fixed mindset, school can be a threatening place because they may be worried about proving their ability or avoiding “looking dumb.” This can lead students to avoid challenges and give up when they struggle. But when students hold a growth mindset, they may experience school as an exciting place to grow, embracing challenges as opportunities to develop mastery.

 

Students’ mindsets about ability shape their responses to adversity in school

 

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When students hold a fixed mindset, school can be a threatening place

When students believe that intelligence is something you either have or you don’t have, their main goal in school is to show how smart they are—or hide that they’re not smart. Therefore, they tend to value getting the best grades over learning. This can make school a stressful experience.

Figure 1. Students holding a growth mindset were far more likely to score in the top 20% on a nationwide achievement test

Figure 1. Students holding a growth mindset were far more likely to score in the top 20% on a nationwide achievement test

Similarly, these students view effort and struggle negatively. They think, “If I have to try, then I must not be very smart.” When they struggle, they conclude that they’ve discovered something they’re not smart at. Given these reactions, it is not surprising that students holding a fixed mindset tend to falter in the face of challenges.

In contrast, students with a growth mindset experience school as an exciting place to learn and grow

When students believe intelligence is something that can be developed, they value learning and mastery. Since school provides this opportunity to learn, it can be a motivating and engaging place.

Similarly, students with a growth mindset view effort and struggle more positively. They see effort as a way to learn and develop their intelligence, and they understand that struggling with a task they haven’t yet mastered is the only way to grow. Because of their interpretations of effort and struggle, students with a growth mindset are more likely to thrive in the face of challenges.

Students’ differing interpretations of school and learning lead to differences in performance

Researchers recently examined the relationship between 10th grade students’ mindsets and performance on a national achievement test in Chile. Students who held a growth mindset were three times more likely to score in the top 20% on the test, while students with a fixed mindset were four times more likely to score in the bottom 20% (See Figure 1).

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What we’ve learned about how to promote a Growth Mindset

Researchers have found that it is possible to promote a growth mindset by teaching students about neuroscience evidence showing that the brain is malleable and gets stronger through effort, trying new strategies, and seeking help when necessary. Researchers have also learned that we can encourage students to adopt more of a growth mindset by changing the way in which we interact with them.

Figure 2. 7th graders who received a growth mindset program avoided the downward trajectory in math grades that is typical in middle school

Figure 2. 7th graders who received a growth mindset program avoided the downward trajectory in math grades that is typical in middle school

Exposing students to neuroscience evidence about the malleability of the brain

Researchers have found that one way to help students develop a growth mindset is by teaching them about neuroscience evidence that shows the brain is malleable. In these programs, students learn that the brain is like a muscle—when you challenge it, it gets stronger. Importantly, students also learn that sheer effort is not enough. The right strategies and advice from others are equally important for strengthening the brain.

Crucially, mindset programs such as these do not simply tell students to adopt a growth mindset. They help them understand why effort, the right strategies, and good advice are important—because these actions help students develop their intelligence. And by asking students to write about what they’ve learned in service of other students who are struggling, students come to internalize the message themselves.

In multiple studies with thousands of students across the country, researchers have found that students who receive these programs earn more course credits, higher grades, and higher standardized test scores.

Changing parents’ and teachers’ everyday interactions with students

Researchers have also observed that parents’ and teachers’ everyday interactions with students can create mindsets that support or undermine resilience. By changing the way in which we interact with students, we can encourage them to adopt more of a growth mindset. For example, students adopt a growth mindset when adults focus praise on process rather than ability.

Examples of how ability praise can be reworded as process praise that promotes a growth mindset

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Learn more about Growth Mindset

What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research

This Research Summary synthesizes what we know about Growth Mindset from years of scientific research.

Praise That Makes Learners More Resilient

This Issue Brief summarizes what we know from nearly two decades of research about how to use praise and feedback by teachers and parents to encourage students to adopt growth mindsets and become more resilient learners.

Mindset Programs that Forecast Common Challenges Prior to the Transition of College Can Reduce Achievement Gaps
This Research Brief summarizes the findings from three studies that explore whether online programs delivered before college can effectively prepare students for challenges they may face during the transition to college.

Opportunity or Setback? Parents’ Views on Failure Influences Children’s Mindsets About Intelligence
This Research Brief summarizes the findings from multiple studies on the way parent practices can influence their children’s mindsets about intelligence ability.
In this blog post by Carol Dweck, she discusses the breadth of mindset research that has been completed so far and offers insights to next steps in mindset science.

Visit the Research LibraryAdditional Resources or the Blog for more resources and information on Growth Mindset.