The growth mindset and intrinsic motivation contribute independently to persistence

One way to describe what the progress-focused approach means is captured in a model which I introduced in my book Kiezen voor progressie. The model (see figure right) describes how both a growth mindset and autonomous motivation contribute to effective effort and how effort in turn creates progress. In this post you read more about this model and it may be used. Looking at this model you might wonder if there should also be an arrow between the growth mindset and autonomous motivation. Do these two influence each other, too? I have thought this before and several people have asked me about it. As far as I know it has been studied only once.

What is the relation between the growth mindset and autonomous motivation?

Renaud-Dubé et al. (2015) examined the relations between mindset (implicit beliefs about the malleability of intelligence) and autonomous motivation. They surveyed high school students (N=650) and examined the relations between these variables via structural equation modeling (SEM). Previous research has shown that both the growth mindset and autonomous motivation predict student persistence. The researchers expected that their findings would show that autonomous motivation mediated the association between the growth mindset and persistence. But this was not the case. They found two interesting things. First, they found that mindset was not related to autonomous motivation. In other words, having a growth mindset does not imply that you will find the subject also more interesting or important. Second, they found that intrinsic motivation was the only aspect of motivation which predicted persistence. The figure below shows theses findings.


Both students with a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation reported greater persistence. These findings suggest that there are two independent processes. The effects of a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation appear to be additive. This suggests that, in a school context, it is best to create a context which promotes both a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. A growth mindset can be promoted by providing information about the malleability of intelligence (and other personal characteristics) and through the way teacher communicate with students (read more). Intrinsic motivation is present in every student but the degree to which it is expressed depends on the degree to which the need for autonomy and competence are supported (read more).


  1. Hi,
    regarding the growth mindset itself I wondered how to think about the term intelligence: Is intelligence itself as psychometrical construct not rather stable regardless of ones beliefs? And is the growth mindset itself not about a belief in that training increases competence regardless of this intelligence level? Intelligence then would define the speed of progress or the limits for an individual in some domains (that are based more on cognitive capacities). What do you think?

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Thanks for your question. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue. The term ‘intelligence’ can refer to many things. In everyday language it has much broader meanings than the type of intelligence that is measured by psychometric tests. Let’s refer to the latter type as IQ. I agree that the general consensus has been that IQ is relatively stable in adulthood. I’ll get back to that.

      First, let me say something about broader intelligence conceptualizations. David Perkins has suggested a three component definition of intelligence: the fixed neurological intelligence linked to IQ tests; the specialized knowledge and experience that individuals acquire over time; and reflective intelligence, the ability to become aware of one's mental habits and transcend limited patterns of thinking ( Of his three components only the first (neural) component appears to be relatively stable, the other two are very malleable. To some extent I think it is fair to say that growth mindset theory refers to a relatively broad concept of intelligence (as we tend to do in everyday language). I agree that in this sense intelligence can grow without IQ being affected (for example, chess grand masters vary a lot in their IQ’s).

      Keith Stanovich points to another way in which the term intelligence as used in everyday language is quite different from what IQ tests measure. His research is into rationality (read all about it here: Much behavior which we usually think of as intelligent actually falls under rationality which is highly malleable.

      So, when mindset theory refers to intelligence it is probably referring more (and rightfully so) to those broader intelligence conceptualizations.

      Having said this, I would not be surprised if we will find out that even IQ is more malleable than previously thought. Here some reasons why this would surprise me. 1) There now appear to be studies which show that working memory (closely correlated to IQ) is more malleable than previously thought. 2) There is the Flynn effect which show fast rises in IQ-scores, suggesting it is more malleable than previously thought, 3) a new book by Flynn suggests that the stability of IQ scores is partly caused by the stability of situational factors and that changing situations may enable IQ growth (see Flynn’s books here:, 4) we live in an age in which we discover that many of the things we thought were fixed are actually more malleable than previously thought. For example, it is discovered that the adult brain is much more malleable than previously thought (see neuroplasticity research). Another example, personality was also thought to be quite stable, yet that idea also appears to be overturned:

      In sum: I think mindset theory refers to a broad intelligence conceptualization. Many aspects of such intelligence concepts are quite malleable. I agree that IQ-like intelligence appears to be less malleable. But I would not be surprised if the fixedness of IQ is overestimated also.

  2. Motivation is the key factor of our success strategy. It helps to change our mindset and improve our positive thoughts among us. The mindset of a person changes due to various reasons, but it should be positive and strong which helps to develop our personality and skills. So we never deny the importance of positive mindset in our success strategy. I completely appreciate the efforts present in this article and while implementing these things, we can easily get better success in our professional and personal life. Thanks for such wonderful suggestion.
    Motivation Tips


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