Carol Dweck & Growth Mindset Psychology

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Do you believe that a person's success depends on talent or on preparation? How a person answers that question often says much about his or her view of how the world functions. In this lesson, we examine this question through the work of psychologist Carol Dweck.

What is Mindset Psychology?

Is it better for a person to be talented or to work hard? What are the implications of the belief that a person is naturally good at things? These questions bring us to the work of Carol Dweck, noted for her work on mindset psychology, the study of how people's beliefs, or mindset, about success can color how they respond to challenges.

Another way of looking at the issue is how much control people believe they have over success. Some people believe that they succeed based on natural gifts that they either have or don't. Other people associate their success with hard work, continued pursuit of a goal, or even failure. People in this second group believe the ability to achieve is always in their reach if they work hard enough.

The research behind mindset psychology was notable in part because it came at a time when self-esteem was professed as the greatest influence to whether young people succeeded and even whether they were happy. Violence and other social ills were thought to be caused by low self-esteem. If someone wasn't achieving to their potential, the answer would be to improve their respect for themselves. Now, much of this research has been discarded by the scientific community as too flawed to be dependable.

Dweck's Research

Most of Carol Dweck's work is with children in school. Her interest was in how people deal with difficulties and whether it is better to teach young people that they are innately smart, or if it's better to praise their work ethic.

She developed a series of studies in which she monitored the reactions of elementary and middle school students to different successes and failures. The children were divided into two groups. Both groups were given an easy test, and they all scored very well. However, one group of students was told they scored well because they were especially talented or intelligent. The other group of students was told they scored well because they had studied hard.

Typically, the students who were told they were naturally talented reported more negative feelings about themselves when a much harder test was given that they didn't perform well on. Often, they seemed to question the judgment about their talents. These students had much less regard for their abilities and didn't even seem to take test preparation as seriously.

Students who were told that they had scored well because they worked hard, on the other hand, responded better to low scores on subsequent tests. They felt that they could work harder and do better in the future. They studied more and didn't seem to take failure as a reason to question their own worth as students. Failure was just another reason to study harder.

Growth Mindset

Dweck's research into the second group of students, those who possessed what is termed a growth mindset, forms the core of her work. While self-esteem psychology focused on praise as a way to build up students, Dweck suggested praise should be specific, and it should point out behavior that influences outcomes. For example, praising children's study skills or work ethic helps them focus on skills that they can influence, whereas praising their intelligence - something that can't be changed - leaves them without a way to influence an outcome.

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