February 5, 2015
Attribution and a growth mindset
In psychology we have discovered that people continuously search for explanations for what happens in their lives. This process, which is called attribution, often happens unconsciously. When people think that causes of what happened and of their own behaviors lie outside of themselves, we speak of external attribution. When they think causes lie within themselves we speak of internal attribution. How people attribute influences both how they view themselves and they choices they make and, because of that, how they will develop.
The topic of attribution is quite relevant for whether people have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. When a student has failed a math test, for example, a process of attribution kicks in. The student may wonder what this failure says about him or her. An internal attribution of this failure might be: "I'm probably not smart enough for this." This is a fixed mindset attribution. An external attribution might be: "This topic is probably just very hard."
We can influence people's attribution by suggestion an growth mindset attribution. In the case of the student who flunked his math test, for example, we might say: "Math is quite hard. It is normal to have to practice a lot an put in much effort to master this subject. When you do that, you'll get better." After such a remark the student can be relieved and think: "Oh, it's not me! It is just hard, It just need to put in more effort."