We hold many beliefs about ourselves. Maybe you believe you’re a good friend, a slow runner, a critical thinker, and a mediocre cook. Recent research explores how our mindsets about our intelligence can influence real-life outcomes.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck researches how having a growth mindset — the belief you can increase your intellectual abilities through hard work and practice — may improve learning outcomes and academic performance.
Professor Dweck’s team surveyed New York City 7th graders, identifying whether students believed intelligence could be increased with effort (growth mindset), or thought it was predetermined and unchangeable (fixed mindset).
The research team then sought to change the mindsets of a group of low-achieving middle schoolers. 91 students took a short course on brain physiology and study skills. Among these students, a test group also studied how intelligence is malleable, while a control group did not.
The student’s mindsets and their grades showed the difference. Student responses to an end-of-year survey indicated that the test group had shifted towards more of a growth mindset. This change correlated to significant improvements in math grades, whereas the control showed no change in grades or mindset.
Why mindset matters
What could explain these striking results? Imagine you believe you’re a shaky storyteller and always will be. When a friend prompts you to tell a story, this belief may cause you to rush and rarely experiment with jokes or delightful details. Your mindset may prevent you from building your story-telling skills long-term.
Believing an ability is “fixed” may leave you unmotivated and easily demoralized by setbacks, according to Professor Dweck’s research. In contrast, adopting a growth mindset can motivate you to put in more effort and overcome tough challenges.
What’s your mindset?
Research on mindset reminds us that what we believe about ourselves isn’t just in our heads: it impacts our actions and accomplishments – how we face challenges and reach our goals.
So next time you tackle a difficult new task, whether it’s public speaking or learning to change a tire, try adopting a growth mindset.