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Mindsets of intelligence

People's implicit theories about whether personality traits are fixed or malleable

One of the most effective ways to change behavior may not be targeting the behavior directly, but instead changing people's implicit underlying assumptions about whether behaviors or personalities in general are fixed or malleable.

It may seem obvious – or at least most would agree once it's pointed out to them – that people will be more likely to change a behavior if they believe it can be changed. But many interventions to change behavior don't make this a central feature. It could be argued that it is more important to retain the typical focus on making people more motivated or providing instruction on how to change a specific habit and behavior. Beliefs about whether a behavior change can be achieved can then follow suit.

The key value of the work on implicit theories is explicating what form this knowledge takes, how it can be changed, and what the impact is. For example, for a brief overview see:

Some studies have revealed extremely impressive findings: teaching middle school students and undergraduates that intelligence is malleable (rather than fixed) can improve their actual grades. Very few interventions impact such an important and broad measure, despite using far more time and resources. They are also often restricted to just one content area or set of skills. Little work has examined how changing mindsets can result in greater behavior change, but there is a great deal of potential.

The Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS) group is running a range of online and brief interventions to teach a growth mindset (and also value-affirmation) in schools, then measure the outcomes.

Reference list for evidence that teaching a growth mindset can improve student education

Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-Psychological Interventions in Education: They're Not Magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267–301. doi:10.3102/0034654311405999

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263.

Dweck, C. S. (2007). Boosting achievement with messages that motivate. Education Canada, 47(2), 6–10.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success

Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & 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(2), 113–125. doi:10.1006/jesp.2001.1491

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(6), 645–662. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2003.09.002

Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331(6023), 1447.

PERTS Ongoing Project Reports
Result summaries from several studies are available below. We hope to add more in the near future as more data become available.
  • Luther Burbank School District (pdf)
  • Crittenden Middle School (pdf)
  • Perspectives Charter School (pdf)