Carol S. Dweck: The Importance of Mindsets in Achievement, Resilience, and Conflict Resolution

By
In Fellows

carol-s-dweck-with-felton-earls.218.325.sOn May 13, 2010, Carol S. Dweck was inducted as the Herbert Simon Fellow of the Academy at the Newseum in Washington, DC. In inducting her, Felton J. Earls noted “Professor Dweck’s scholarship inspires and guides us all, from student to parent to teacher, to be better at what we do.…Her induction in the Academy is reason for us all to celebrate for she is the consummate psychologist.…Her research has shown that students who have a ‘fixed mindset’—the result of being praised for their intelligence—value looking smart over learning. In contrast, students who are praised for their effort or their persistence develop a ‘growth mindset’ with its emphasis on persistence and hard work”. The following is a transcript of Carol Dweck’s induction remarks.

“For much of its life, psychology has attempted to document human limitations, limitations that were seen as arising from innate intelligence or character traits. My work has questioned these limits and shown that they can stem as much from people’s beliefs as from the structure of human nature or biology. It is a particular honor to be named the Herbert Simon Fellow. It is Simon’s work with his colleagues (such as Newell, Chase, Ericsson, and Hayes) that so compellingly pointed to the role of practice and experience in what looks like natural talent, but is really acquired expertise. In my research, I have shown that students’ own theories about their intelligence as fixed and limited or as malleable and expandable play an important role in their achievement. When we follow students across challenging school transitions, it is the ones with the malleable view–the growth mindset–who focus on learning, value effort, are more resilient, and show higher achievement.

Simon further believed that if we really know a lot about something we ought to be able to teach it. We and others have now shown that teaching the growth mindset can transform students’ motivation and raise their grades and test scores. We have also shown that praise can transmit these mindsets. Praising students’ intelligence creates a fixed mindset and decreases motivation and resilience in the face of difficulty. But, praising their process (their effort, their strategy) promotes a growth mindset with its greater desire for challenge and learning. It has been deeply gratifying to see researchers demonstrating these effects across many fields and even more gratifying to see public policy responding to our findings. Schools, organizations, even sports teams around the world are seeking to foster a growth mindset in the individuals in their settings and to embody these views in their culture as a whole.

There are so many more areas to be addressed. Recently, there has been a widespread view in psychology that willpower is a limited resource that is easily depleted. This has come to be seen as a basic biological truth that is rooted in glucose metabolism, and it has been bad news for dieters, diabetics, students during finals, and anyone who needs to exert self control over sustained periods of time. However, we have now shown that willpower is limited only if you believe it is. People who believe the opposite–that exerting willpower is energizing, not depleting–do not show impaired self control even after a series of demanding tasks. Again, what has been taken as human nature, deeply rooted in biology, turns out to be in large part just a widely held theory and one, we have now demonstrated, that can be changed.

We have also examined people’s theories about the moral character of others: is moral character fixed or can it change? And we have shown that these mindsets can play a key role in conflict. In our studies, Israelis who were taught about the malleable nature of groups harbored less hatred and were more willing to compromise for the sake of peace. Now, the only places that have more conflict than the Middle East are high schools. Here we have shown that high school students who are taught a growth mindset about people’s character show a decrease in their fantasies of revenge and their actual aggression after conflicts with their peers. It would be extremely rewarding to see such work play a role in conflict prevention and conflict resolution on a larger scale over time.

Innate qualities are undoubtedly important, but the hallmark of human nature is learning and flexibility. Our first impulse as social scientists should be not to try to categorize people in terms of their fixed traits, but to try to understand what underlies expertise or constructive behavior. And once we understand it, as Simon says, we ought to be able to teach it.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely the opinions of the individuals and not those of the Academy.

Carol S. Dweck: The Importance of Mindsets in Achievement, Resilience, and Conflict Resolution, Felton Earls’ Induction

Carol S. Dweck:The Importance of Mindsets in Achievement, Resilience, and Conflict Resolution, Carol S. Dweck’s Remarks