Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Growth mindset development

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Growth mindset development:
How can a growth mindset be developed?

Overview[edit | edit source]

When approaching a problem people can view it in two ways; as an opportunity to grow or as an opportunity to fail. Those who view challenges and life in general as full of opportunities to grow, have a growth mindset (Mueller & Dweck 1998). This chapter demonstrates how growth mindsets can be developed due to environmental impact and how fixed mindsets restrict the development of a growth mindset.


Focus questions:
  • What is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset?
  • What is mastery socialisation?
  • What role does feedback play in the development of a growth mindset?
  • How can teachers encourage their students to develop a growth mindset?
  • What roles do goals play in the development of growth mindsets?
  • How does a fixed mindset limit the ability of a person to develop a growth mindset?

Growth and fixed mindsets[edit | edit source]

Case study part 1
Figure 1. Johnny distracted in class

Johnny (see Figure 1) is seven years old and has never been good at maths and always receives low marks. He thinks that his low marks are because "he is not good at maths". He therefore does not believe he can improve as a result of the existing belief that "he is not good at maths".

Mindsets are mental frameworks used to interpret information, guide attention, process information and make decisions. These thought processes influence the interpretation of the meaning of investing effort and if their efforts are a success or failure (Reeve, 2018). Mueller and Dweck (1998), identified two mindsets people can hold, based on how they view their skills and abilities; growth mindsets and fixed mindsets. Those that hold a growth mindset view their skills and abilities as malleable and something which can be improved with practice and effort. In contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset view skills and abilities as determined by genetics and are unchangeable. In the case study, Johnny is an example of what a fixed mindset can look like which can in many ways be debilitating (Kamins & Dweck, 1999).

Mindsets change the way people view feedback and effort when developing a skill (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018). One of the differences between fixed and growth mindsets is their goal setting strategy. Growth mindsets are associated with the adoption of mastery goals (Elliot & McGregor, 2001). Adopting mastery goals leads people to:

  • Work harder (Elliott & Dweck, 1988)
  • Persist longer (Elliott & Dweck, 1988)
  • Perform better at cognitive tasks (Spence, 1983)

Mindsets influence how people view effort (Dweck, 2008). When attempting a task, those with a fixed mindset are more likely to view trying hard as a sign of incompetence. In contrast those who hold a growth mindset will view effort as a tool which can be used to achieve a desired outcome (Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck, 2007).

A growth mindset has many advantages in comparison to a fixed mindset (see Table 1), this raises the question, what causes the development of a growth mindset? Research has shown that mastery socialisation is the most effective way to build a growth mindset (Dweck, 2008). Mastery socialisation is the process of exposing an individual to the components of a growth mindset to change or develop their own mindset (Dweck, 2008). Mastery socialisation can happen though feedback (Mueller & Dweck, 1998) or from mindset interventions (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

Table 1.
Differences Between People With a Growth Mindset Verses Those With a Fixed Mindset (adapted from Reeve, 2018).

Growth Mindset Fixed Mindset
Views on intelligence Intelligence is something which can be fostered and developed. Intelligence is something you are born with and do not have much influence over.
Views on effort Effort is a tool which is needed to improve abilities. Effort is a sign that someone lacks ability and should be avoided.
Type of goals set Mastery goals. Performance avoidance goals.
Response to a challenge Challenge is an opportunity to learn. Challenge is something which could demonstrate incompetence .

Mastery socialisation[edit | edit source]

Mastery socialisation is the process of exposing someone to mastery paradigms and motivations (Dweck, 2008). This can be done in many ways, including giving feedback and criticism to people to reinforce behaviours associated with mastery (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Growth mindsets can also be encouraged by giving people information about how the behaviours associated with a growth mindset can be learnt (Aronson, Fried & Good, 2002).

Mastery socialisation is arguably the most influential aspect of growth mindset development (Dweck, 2008). A main reason why it is so effective is it changes the way which people view effort which by itself will improve performance and subsequently self-efficacy (Dweck, 2008). Mastery socialisation can come from many sources however the most common places are from parents and from the educational environment (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018).

How feedback affects mastery socialisation[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. The effects of praise on performance as measured by number of puzzles solved. (Mueller & Dweck, 1998)

Mastery socialisation changes the way individuals view their abilities and the effort they invest in tasks (Dweck, 2008). One of main ways this happens is through the feedback about an individual's performance (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). If done incorrectly feedback leads to negative outcomes (Kamins & Dweck, 1999)

Mueller and Dweck (1998), investigated how feedback given to students on how they solve problems affects their abilities to solve problems in the future. The experiment separated the participants into three groups and asked them to solve an easy problem. The first group were told they did well on a task because they worked hard, the second group was told they did well because they are naturally intelligent, and the final group was just told they did well and acted as a control group. The results of the study showed that there were significant differences between the treatment conditions depending on the type of feedback they were given by the researchers.

Groups who were told they are successful because of their hard work and implemented strategies showed greater intrinsic motivation to achieve set goals and many elements of a growth mindset (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). They also showed greater willingness to attempt harder problems with the risk of failure, if it would result in learning more. The control group also showed that without the feedback as to why they did well, their performance did not change (see Figure 2). These findings indicate that encouraging children to work hard changes their mindset and performance (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). These findings have been replicated in a range of age-groups and findings suggest that the effects begin during early years (Lucca, Horton & Sommerville, 2019).

The group who were told they did well because they were talented showed a range of negative outcomes, which are associated with a fixed mindset. The main effect was a reduction of intrinsic motivation to solve problems in the future. Feedback also changed the types of problems solved, as they were less willing to attempt harder problems. Feedback that criticises the individual rather than their effort or strategy also lead to worse coping abilities (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). When faced with failure, individuals who have been criticised as an whole show a helpless response, experience negative affect, and show less persistence on tasks (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). In addition, those who are given given feedback which induces a fixed mindset are likely to expect lower performance on future tasks which will reduce their effort on those tasks (Anderson & Jennings, 1980).

Mastery socialisation from feedback can influence what mindset individuals develop (see Table 2). When people are given feedback as praise or criticism based on their strategies to achieve their goals it causes the development of a growth mindset (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Additionally feedback which praises or provides criticism for who they are, leads to the development of a fixed mindset and subsequently lower coping abilities (Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Kamins & Dweck, 1999).

Table 2.

Examples of feedback on a psychology exam and how it would affect mindset development (adapted from Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Praise for outcome Criticism for outcome
Supporting a growth mindset You got a good grade because you worked really hard. The reason you failed your exam was because you did not study enough.
Supporting a fixed mindset You got a high mark because you are smart. You failed because you are not good at Psychology classes.

Impacts from parents[edit | edit source]

Parents have large impacts on the development of a growth mindset. Early feedback and language used by parents in is correlated with later development of a mastery mindset (Lucca, Horton & Sommerville, 2019; Gunderson et al., 2018). Additionally, parental support in transitional periods can lead to the development of sense of mastery which is linked to a growth mindset (Surjadi, Lorenz, Wickrama & Conger, 2011).

Case study part 2

Johnny lives with his parents who want to make him feel loved, so they often tell him how smart he is. However, they have accidentally encouraged the development of a fixed mindset.

What feedback people receive can help encourage what type of mindset they develop as demonstrated by Mueller and Dweck (1998). Unfortunately, the study only lasted for a few hours which did not show long term impacts of mastery socialisation (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Fortunately, recent research has indicated that the process of mastery socialisation at any time can increase the displays of a growth mindset (Gunderson et al., 2018).

In their longitudinal study Gunderson et al., (2018) examined mastery language used by parents with their children, who were aged between one and three. They compared this language usage against later academic performance and found that parents who used more language which praised a child's effort on tasks over their natural intelligence greater academic performance later in childhood as they were in the first years of school.

The impact of parental language seems to not only impact performance later in childhood, but also increases persistence for children as young as 18 months old, indicating the emergence of a growth mindset (Lucca et al., 2019). Because parents usually use the same language style though childhood, it is undetermined if these early experiences have long-term impacts on a growth mindset development, or it is later language usage that fosters a growth mindset later in childhood (Lucca et al., 2019).

The feedback parents give is not the only important contribution which they can make on the development of a growth mindset. Research suggests that parental support throughout the transition from adolescence to adulthood can help to develop a sense of mastery (Surjadi, Lorenz, Wickrama & Conger, 2011). Having a sense of mastery means that an individual believes that their actions and choices will impact and determine the outcomes they get in life (Surjadi et al., 2011). Having a sense of mastery is important in the process of a growth mindset development because it allows individuals to believe that they can change.

Academic interventions for mindset change[edit | edit source]

Having a growth mindset is linked with better academic outcomes (Gunderson et al., 2018; De Castella & Byrne, 2015; Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018) and enjoyment of the academic processes (Blackwell et al., 2007). Additionally, growth mindsets are able to counteract the effects of negative racial stereotypes have on academic performance (Aronson et al., 2002). Yeager and Walton (2011) research found mindset interventions have been developed to change the mindset of a student to foster academic success.

When looking at results, from 1st to 12th grade, the grade point average (GPA) of an average students tends to decrease (Gutman, Sameroff & Cole, 2003). Blackwell et al., (2007) identified that individuals who have a growth mindset demonstrate the opposite response over time. Using this information, the researchers were able to develop an intervention which aimed to change the student's implicit theory of intelligence so that they view intelligence as something which can be changed. To do this, they taught all student participants about the physiology of the brain, study skills and anti-stereotypic thinking. However, the experimental group were taught about growth mindsets and how the brain is malleable (Figure 3) while the control group was not. The experimental group showed improvements in grades while the control group continued to decline in grades (Blackwell et al., 2007).

Case study part 3

In high school Johnny did not try very hard in his maths class because he doesn't believe he is good at maths or that he can change. However, his teacher notices potential and sets up a mindset intervention. The teacher displayed to the class that skills an intelligence are malleable and can be developed with hard work. As a result of this, Johnny begins to work harder at school and his grades begin to change. This shows him that he can change with effort and his mindset shifted to a growth mindset.

Mindset interventions can also help to counteract the effects of negative racial stereotypes (Aronson et al.,2002; Good, Aronson & Inzlicht, 2003). Aronson et al., (2002) found that a contributing factor to the disparity in grades between white and black students was partially due to the false belief that black students are less intelligent. To counteract this students were asked to write a letter to a younger student. The experimental condition was asked to emphasise that intelligence is malleable and can change with effort while the control condition was asked to emphasise that intelligence is a multi-factorial skill. By encouraging students to write about the malleability of intelligence it encouraged the development of a growth mindset and allowed the students to internalise the concepts of malleable intelligence (Aronson et al., 2002). The intervention showed that those who were in the experimental condition had a greater enjoyment of the academic process, had a higher GPA and a reduction in grade disparity between black and white students.

Figure 3. Synaptic plasticity is when connections in the brain change. This is one of the reasons humans can learn.

These mindset interventions have been shown to be effective in many age groups, demonstrating that showing students that they can change mindset may lead to higher grades (Yeager & Walton, 2011). When students are first exposed to mastery socialisation they often develop a growth mindset due to growth mindsets being more adaptive (Yeager & Walton, 2011). The effects of these mindset interventions have been shown to strengthen over time. This is believed to be because the interventions create positive feedback loops. This occurs because as students apply more effort to their studies, they develop more academic skills and are reinforced with increases in grades (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

Throughout these interventions the emphasis was not on teaching the students academic skills, but rather to teach them that they are able to change and this change occurs through investing effort and practice (Yeager & Walton, 2011). This demonstrates that individuals naturally gravitate towards self improvement and that the interventions just demonstrate that change is possible. Through understanding that change is possible individuals naturally develop a growth mindset because a growth mindset is adaptive and self reinforcing (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

Factors which inhibit development of a growth mindset[edit | edit source]

Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

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Just as the development of a growth mindset can enter a positive feedback loop which reinforces the continued development and growth, there are factors of fixed mindsets which maintain an individual's fixed mindset. For example, the type of mindset an individual has greatly influences types of goals they set (Dweck, 1999). The goals that individuals with a fixed mindset create discourage exerting effort which reinforces not trying (Dweck, 1999). Additionally those with a fixed mindset have been recorded as actively engaging in self-handicapping behaviours which limits the development of self efficacy and subsequently the development of a growth mindset (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018).

The 2 x 2 achievement goal framework[edit | edit source]

Elliot and McGregor (2001) found that the type of goals people set can vary along two axes: the definition axis and the valence axis. Their model is known as the The 2 x 2 Achievement Goal Framework (see Table 3).

In the model by Elliot and McGregor (2001), the definition axis defines if someone sets mastery or performance goals. If someone is setting a mastery goal they are aiming to fully understand what they are doing and learn from the task. In contrast, those who set performance goals are aiming to perform at a specific level. The valence axis is if someone is setting approach or avoidance goals, those who set approach goals are aiming to get a positive outcome, while avoidance goals aim to avoid a negative outcome (Elliot & McGregor, 2001).

The type of goal an individual may set is correlated with different outcomes. For example, those who create mastery approach goals have been recorded as performing better than those with a performance goals on cognitive tasks (Spence, 1983), as well as showing more persistence and working harder than those with a performance goals (Elliott & Dweck, 1988). An example of how this affects performance is how the goals students set affect how they learn to read. One study found that a student's reading ability was found to be fully mediated by the goals they set (Cho, Toste, Lee & Ju, 2019).

Table 3.
The 2 x 2 achievement goal framework (adapted from Elliot & McGregor, 2001).

Absolute/intrapersonal (mastery) Normative (performance)
Positive (approaching success) Mastery-approach goal Performance approach goal
Negative (avoiding failure) Mastery-avoidance goal Performance-avoidance goals

The type of mindset an individual holds is correlated with different goal setting strategies. Those who hold a growth mindset are more likely to adopt a mastery goal, while those who hold a fixed mindset are more likely to adopt a performance approach goal or a performance avoidance goal (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). This can be beneficial for further fostering the development of a growth mindset as persisting more and working harder often leads to better outcomes, which reinforces the development of a growth mindset (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

Goal setting can also prevent those with a fixed mindset from developing a growth mindset by setting performance goals. Performance goals in general lead to individuals to exert less effort and and be less persistent in goal striving causing an increase in rates of failure when engaged in goal pursuit (Elliott & Dweck, 1988). The failures due to not trying reinforces the beliefs of a fixed mindset by demonstrating that they cannot improve (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018). More specifically, setting performance avoidance goals can lead individuals to actively self-handicap which further reinforces their belief that they cannot change (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018).

Self-handicapping and performance avoidance goals[edit | edit source]

Performance avoidance goals are when an individual is attempting to avoid a particular outcome (Elliot & McGregor, 2001). This could be adaptive in cases of trying to avoid failure, such as trying to not fail a test. However, in cases of those with a fixed mindset it is often maladaptive due to the way they view effort (Blackwell et al., 2007). Individuals with a fixed mindset view effort as a lack of skill, and that exerting effort on a task is a demonstration that an individual lacks competence (Blackwell et al., 2007). Because of this, individuals with a fixed mindset seek to avoid looking incompetent by not investing effort (Atkinson, 1957). By not investing effort, it allows people to rationalise their failure as a lack of effort rather than a lack of ability (Atkinson, 1957). Due to their fixed mindset, even if an individual succeeds in their goal pursuit, it results in strengthening their fixed mindset because they are rewarded for not trying (Blackwell et al., 2007). Through this mechanism, feedback loops strengthen the individual's current mindset which limits the ability of a growth mindset to develop.

Autotelic personalities[edit | edit source]

Could growth mindsets be a personality trait?

People with an autotelic personality show many of characteristics which are described in people with a mastery mindset. People with an autotelic personality are those who engage in tasks for the enjoyment of completing the task not for the expected outcome of that task. The similarities between descriptions of autotelic personalities and people with growth mindsets include:

  • Enjoying tasks beyond their skill level so that they can learn from the experience
  • Greater persistence when faced with a difficult task
  • Setting approach-oriented goals; they set goals which they seek to gain skills rather than protect what they already have

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The development of a growth mindset has many benefits compared to a fixed mindset (see Table 1). A growth mindset can be developed through the process of mastery socialisation, which involves exposing individuals to the components of a growth mindset (Dweck, 2008). Mastery socialisation can be done by parents by giving their children the right feedback (Muller & Dweck. 1998). Giving criticism or encouragement that focuses on processes or effort can encourage the development of a growth mindset while feedback which focuses on the individual as a whole causes the development of a fixed mindset (Muller & Dweck, 1998). Mastery socialisation can also be done by teachers when they show students that their skills and abilities can change (Yeager & Walton, 2011).

The development of a growth mindset can be hindered by having a fixed mindset, due to fixed mindsets being linked with setting performance avoidance goals (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Performance avoidance goals are linked with lower effort and persistence on tasks, which causes increased rates of task failure (Elliott & Dweck, 1988). Increased rates of failure lead individuals to believe they are unable to change which reinforces a fixed mindset creating a feedback loop (Török, Szabó & Tóth, 2018).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Anderson, C., & Jennings, D. (1980). When experiences of failure promote expectations of success: The impact of attribution failure to ineffective strategies. Journal of Personality, 48, 393-407. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1980.tb00841.x

Aronson, J., Fried, C., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113-125. https://doi.org/10.1006/jesp.2001.1491

Atkinson, J. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 64, 359-372. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0043445

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246-263. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.00995.x

Cho, E., Toste, J., Lee, M., & Ju, U. (2019). Motivational predictors of struggling readers’ reading comprehension: the effects of mindset, achievement goals, and engagement. Reading and Writing, 35, 1219-1242. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9908-8

De Castella, K., & Byrne, D. (2015). My intelligence may be more malleable than yours: the revised implicit theories of intelligence (self-theory) scale is a better predictor of achievement, motivation, and student disengagement. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 30, 245-267. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-015-0244-y

Dweck, C. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Dweck, C. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 391-394. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00612.x

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset. New York: Ballantine.

Elliot, A., & McGregor, H. (2001). A 2 × 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 80, 501-519. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.80.3.501

Elliott, E., & Dweck, C. (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 54, 5-12. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.54.1.5

Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents' standardized test performance: An intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645-662. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2003.09.002

Gunderson, E., Sorhagen, N., Gripshover, S., Dweck, C., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S. (2018). Parent praise to toddlers predicts fourth grade academic achievement via children’s incremental mindsets. Developmental Psychology, 54, 397-409. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000444

Gutman, L., Sameroff, A., & Cole, R. (2003). Academic growth curve trajectories from 1st grade to 12th grade: Effects of multiple social risk factors and preschool child factors. Developmental Psychology, 39, 777-790. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.39.4.777

Kamins, M., & Dweck, C. (1999). Person versus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology, 35, 835-847. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.35.3.835

Lucca, K., Horton, R., & Sommerville, J. (2019). Keep trying!: Parental language predicts infants’ persistence. Cognition, 193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104025

Mueller, C., & Dweck, C. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33-52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding motivation and emotion (7th ed), pp. 203-226). New York: Wiley.

Spence, J, T., (1983). Achievement and achievement motives : psychological and sociological approaches. W.H. Freeman, San Francisco.

Surjadi, F., Lorenz, F., Wickrama, K., & Conger, R. (2011). Parental support, partner support, and the trajectories of mastery from adolescence to early adulthood. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 619-628. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2010.10.001

Török, L., Szabó, Z., & Tóth, L. (2018). A critical review of the literature on academic self-handicapping: theory, manifestations, prevention and measurement. Social Psychology of Education, 21, 1175-1202. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-018-9460-z

Yeager, D., & Walton, G. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267-301. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654311405999

External links[edit | edit source]