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Growth Mindset - Whose Line Is It Anyway

Growth Mindset: Whose line is it anyway?

4 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset

Does the benefit of having a growth mindset, which is the belief that one can improve, help all students equally? This blog examines some of the latest research which looks at growth mindset in relation to gender, socio-economic background, previous academic performance, and nationality to answer the question: Growth Mindset: whose line is it anyway?

High achievers vs Low achievers

For students who have always done well at school, it may be easy to lapse into a fixed mindset as they believe that they are ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’. This may lead to them rejecting feedback, as they perceive it as a criticism or a slight against their natural ability. Likewise, we have heard of students who think that they are “too thick to revise” and believe that no amount of effort will surmount their lack of talents (this is what psychologists call ‘Learned Helplessness’).

So what does the research say? Do growth mindset interventions work best for high or low achievers?

In this study, researchers found that creating a sense of purpose and a growth mindset was more likely to help students who had been struggling to improve their grades in Maths, English and Science. However, this contrasted with this recent study of over 2000 students, which found that typically high achieving students benefited more from a growth mindset and motivational intervention.

VERDICT: Potentially good for both. 

Rich vs Poor students

One of the largest ever studies on Growth Mindset was recently conducted by researchers Susana Claro, David Paunesku and Carol Dweck from Stamford University. They found that in over 160,000 students in Chile, a child’s growth mindset predicted student’s grades across every socio-economic level.

VERDICT: Good for students of all socio-economic backgrounds. 

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Growth Mindset studies have been conducted all around the world. These include multiple ones in America, Norway, England, India and China. The vast majority of these all found that Growth Mindset was linked to better grades. More details about these studies can be found in our blog, ‘Does Growth Mindset lead to Better Grades?’.

The only study that definitely didn’t link mindset to grades was a study of 222 students in China. It is not clear why this may be the case. Future research on this area is needed to explore the underlying mechanisms of this and perhaps how different cultures interpret Growth Mindset.

VERDICT: Good for most students around the world.

Disengaged students

A recent survey on teachers’ opinions regarding mindset strategies found that working with students who were perceived to be ‘disengaged’ posed one of the biggest challenges for teachers. Mindset interventions have been found to help students who are likely to suffer from the ‘stereotype threat’, which means they believe certain stereotypes about who does well in particular subjects.

For example, this study on 1,005 students found that growth mindset improved a sense of belonging in females pupils studying maths, in turn improving their grades, as did this study from America which found that teaching African American students about a growth mindset and how it related to learning led to those students, on average, getting a boost in their grades. These students were also more likely to report greater enjoyment about school and became more engaged in lessons.

VERDICT: Good for students who believe only certain types of people do well at school/in subjects. 

Male vs Female students

Some have suggested that female students are more likely to have a fixed mindset than boys. This may be down to the type of praise they receive, with this study finding that parents were more likely to praise their sons for effort than their daughters and that, five years later, those children who had been praised for effort were more likely to have a growth mindset. However, this finding contrasts with this study which found that girls are no more likely than boys to have a fixed mindset.

Regardless of difference in levels between genders on mindset, what has been found in several studies on female students, is that having a growth mindset is linked to doing better at school. Check out both the musicality study and the mathematics article for more information.

VERDICT: Would like to see more research on this area, but would expect both genders to benefit from having a Growth Mindset.

Final thoughts

As research on growth mindset continues, our understanding of it is further enhanced. Research has been conducted around the world and on different students. The results are promising. The nuance and differences in how growth mindset helps each student are yet to be fully understood and any psychological intervention is going to impact on everyone differently, as we are all unique, but the overall picture that this research is painting is very encouraging.

Check out our guide on how to develop a Growth Mindset if you want to know more.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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