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Growth Mindset–the key to everything

January 3, 2012

Just yesterday, I saw this tweet from Brainology, the program to promote growth mindset by Carol Dweck.

Be sure to follow the link, A new way to combat prejudice, which reports Carol Dweck’s latest findings on how growth mindset can be used to combat bullying and prejudice.

Here are the two impressive findings:

In a not-yet-published study, the team found that after the workshop [designed to teach students that people can grow or change, and bullying actions don’t make a person good or bad], ninth and 10th graders were less likely to want to exact revenge on “bullies” following a pre-programmed computerized lab game where a three-way game of catch turns into a two-way game that automatically excludes one child. They were also more likely to write friendly rather than vengeful notes to the youngsters who had “excluded” them in the game [this effect lasted 3 months].

In a second study, researchers studied how mindset affects prejudice by taking a cohort of white participants, measuring their conscious and unconscious prejudices, and then randomly assigning them to read either an article that endorsed the idea that prejudice is fixed, or an article endorsing the idea that it can change.

According to independent raters, after reading the articles, both groups acted friendly with white partners, but those who had read the articles that said people’s prejudices can change also acted friendly with a black partner—even those initially found to be high in prejudice. Participants who had read the fixed-mindset articles, however, did not act as friendly to the black participant.

Previously, Dweck found that willpower, too, can be affected by growth mindset. Here’s a quote (emphasis mine):

In one study, we first gave people either an easy, rote task (like crossing off every letter e in a page of typewritten text) or a more difficult task that involved self-control (like crossing out some e’s but not others according to a complex set of rules). Then everyone performed a tricky cognitive task in which they had to exert self-control to avoid making mistakes.

When the initial task was easy and willpower wasn’t required, people did well on the tricky cognitive task, making few mistakes. But when the initial task was hard and involved self-control, people who believed that willpower was limited made almost twice as many mistakes on the tricky cognitive task as did the group that performed the initial easy task. This finding replicates many studies by Dr. Baumeister and others that have been interpreted as evidence that willpower is limited and easily depleted. But, strikingly, we found that people who believed that willpower was not limited continued to perform well on the second task, making few mistakes, even after facing the difficult initial task. They were not “depleted” and kept on doing well.

For those of you keeping score at home, adopting a growth mindset can:

  • lead to greater academic success
  • lead to less stress
  • help you to react more positively to critism
  • allow you to persist in the face of challenge and handle failure
  • enable you to transform your willpower into an inexhaustible resource
  • and now,

  • help you to overcome bullying
  • help you to further embrace diversity

I love two things about this. First, it’s science. Dweck is a top-notch researcher, highly respected in her field. Growth mindset isn’t the edu-jargon buzzword of the day, its effects have been measured, verified and studied in- depth. Second, it speaks to the power of a simple idea—belief in the power of change. If I think I can improve my abilities, I have the incentive I need to do the work to improve. If I think the bully can change, I have the incentive I need to ignore his taunts and reach out in friendship. It makes me think of a dozen other things that mindset probably affects, and I can almost think out the protocol for the experiments in my head. Does mindset affect sexism? Let’s see—have students read two articles on how sexist attitudes can change, and then measure how those students interact with members of the opposite sex.

Stretch this even further and let’s talk about communities, societies and government. If we believe these things can change (and history is littered with examples of this), doesn’t this give us the incentive to do the hard work to change them?

Is there any doubt now that this is the most important lesson we should be teaching to students in school, from the earliest days of kindergarten right up until high school graduation?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nat permalink
    January 3, 2012 10:08 pm

    My department just adopted Growth Mindset as our department priority. I am finding that a growth mindset in one area likely means a growth mindset in others. Great article; nice post.

  2. sheilapearl permalink
    February 5, 2012 12:20 pm

    It is especially true for people 60-plus who grew up with the mindsets inherited from the industrial age that these “growth mindsets” can literally expand the possibilities of people over 60, increasing vitality and creativity. With “growth mindsets”, what used to be the experience of “growing old” can be the phenomenon of “growing young” as people 60-plus advance into getting older chronologically, but growing younger energetically, physically, and mentally.


  1. Growth mindset benefits carry into old age « Quantum Progress

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