December 30, 2007


I am reading a jewel of a book by the title Improving Academic Achievement, edited by social psychologist Joshua Aronson. One of the chapters is titled 'Messages that motivate'. It is written by Carol Dweck. In this chapter she explains the importance of beliefs about intelligence. Carol Dweck describes two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Children who hold a fixed mindset see intelligence as a more or less fixed trait: you have a certain amount and there is not much you can do to change it. Children who hold a growth mindset see intelligence as developable. They view achievement mainly as a matter of effort. Carol Dweck has shown convincingly through many elegant experiments that which mindset you hold, has a dramatic impact on achievement. The table below summarizes the differences between the fixed and the growth mindset:
Clearly the growth mindset is more attractive in many ways. The chapter gets even more interesting when Carol Dweck goes on to a practical level. How can educators and parents help children develop a growth mindset? In particular, what is the role of praise? Two forms of praise are compared: process praise and trait praise. With process praise you compliment the child with his or her effort or strategy ("You must have worked hard", or: "You must have used a good strategy to solve this"). With trait praise you compliment the child for a trait, some kind of fixed internal quality ("You have done well, you must be very smart."). The table below shows the different impacts these two styles of praising children have.

Very interesting, don't you think?


  1. I can see using this with adults too. When I think about some of the most obstinate resisters to change (that others want), for example some of the union leaders I have had to facilitate, I could see thinking of them in a growth vs. fixed mindset.

    Come to think of it, I’ve probably been using it anyway. I remember saying to one very grumpy union leader; ‘You must have worked very hard to have become so skilled at your job on the factory floor. And, it must have taken a lot of your personal time to lead such a diverse group of union members’. It was followed by the question; ‘How come you’ve managed to put up with the management team for so long?’

    He sat silently through two days of the workshop. Normally, he would have interrupted and slowed down the process. He must have been in growth mindset, albeit silently.

  2. Hi Alan, oh yes it works with adults too. Especially indirect processs compliments!


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