The evidence: how a growth mindset leads to higher achievement
- People with a growth mindset had more active brains than people with a fixed mindset when they got feedback that could help them learn.
- After performing poorly on a test, people with a growth mindset chose to learn from people who did better than them. People with a fixed mindset made themselves feel better by looking at the scores of people who did worse than them.
- Adolescents with a growth mindset earned higher math grades than those with a fixed mindset.
- Middle school students with a growth mindset were more likely to take advanced math.
- In Chile, students who had a growth mindset were three times as likely to score in the top 20% of students nationally while students with a fixed mindset were four times more likely to score in the bottom 20% of students.
- Mindsets can change!
A growth mindset focuses students on learning rather than simply performing well. You can even see this when you look inside the brain. In one study, scientists brought people into the lab. The scientists put an EEG cap on participant's heads to measure how active their brains were. While scientists were measuring brain activation, they asked participants a trivia question. Participants gave their answer, and then the scientists told them if they were right or wrong. In other words, they were given performance feedback.
The scientists found that the participants with a growth mindset and with a fixed mindset both had active brains when they were told whether they were right or wrong. So all participants paid attention to the performance feedback. What's interesting is what happened next.
Participants were then told the correct answer, and, again, the scientists looked at how active the participants' brains were. The brains of people with a growth mindset were significantly more active than the brains of people with a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset were tuning out after they found out that they were right or wrong. Even if they were wrong, they weren't interested in learning the correct answer. At the end of the study, the scientists gave participants a pop quiz with the same trivia questions. Not surprisingly, the people with the growth mindset did better.
In another study, researchers were interested in the kind of feedback people would seek out after they struggled. Researchers gave participants a difficult test and then told the participants that they hadn't done well on the test. Then they gave them a choice. Did they want to look at the tests of people who had done worse than them or the tests of people who had done better? People with the growth mindset chose to learn from people who had done better than them, but people with the fixed mindset seemed more interested in making themselves feel better. They looked at the tests of people who had done worse.
A study with junior high students looked at the relationship of fixed versus growth mindsets and achievement in math, a subject that many students find challenging. Students with a growth mindset earned higher math grades over time compared to students with a fixed mindset.
Mindsets have also been shown to predict who takes more advanced courses. In a study with middle school students, those with a growth mindset were more likely to be placed into advanced math over time. And recently several large scale studies have shown the relationship between mindsets and achievement in whole countries and even in multiple countries.
On the Chilean national achievement test, students with a growth mindset earned higher scores. The more a student disagreed with statements like “You can learn new things, but you can't really change your basic intelligence,” the more they had a growth mindset, the better they did on the achievement test. In fact, students who had a growth mindset were three times as likely to score in the top 20 percent of students nationally while students with a fixed mindset were four times more likely to score in the bottom 20 percent of students.
What's most exciting about all of this is that mindsets can change, and when students adopt a growth mindset, they do better in school.