A beginner’s guide to: Professor Carol Dweck

A beginner’s guide to: Professor Carol Dweck

Best known for:

Dweck's best known work is about Mindset, which she transformed into a book of the same name. The concept revolves around two different types of 'mindset' – an individual's concepts of their self.

In a fixed mindset, an individual believes their basic qualities – such as intelligence and talents – are fixed traits that cannot be improved or reduced. They believe ability comes from talent rather than from the slow development of skills through learning. People with a fixed mindset tend to spend their time showing off their intelligence and talents instead of developing them.

A growth mindset is the belief that one's basic abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work and application. These students believe that ability and success are due to learning, and learning requires time and effort. The brain is like a muscle which strengthens with exercise. So, in the case of difficulty, an individual with a growth mindset will try harder, adopt a different approach, or seek help and support . One thing they don't do is give up in the face of challenges. People with a growth mindset have a love of learning and understand that resilience is an essential component of accomplishment.

Quick biography:

Born: 1946

Nationality: American

Where does she work: Dweck is currently the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and has previously held professorships at Columbia and Harvard universities. She earned her PhD. from Yale University in 1972

What it's all about:

To test her theory Dweck conducted nonverbal IQ tests with 400 American school children. The test was easy enough that all of the children could do well in it, but while some of the pupils were praised for their intelligence and told, "you must be smart at this", others were praised for their effort and told they must have "worked really hard."

The pupils were then given a choice of test for the second round: they were told that one choice would be much harder than the first, but that they'd learn a lot from attempting it. The other choice was an easy test, just like the first. Dweck found that 90% those praised for their effort chose the harder test, while a majority of those praised for their intelligence chose the easy one.

She suggests that understanding these different mindsets has powerful implications for learning, teaching and forour understanding of the idea of intelligence. Dweck believes intelligence is not fixed and can be developed

Dweck developed her mindset concept further into Attribution Theory, which examines the different factors we attribute our failures and successes to. This is especially important when working with students, as understanding what they believe they are capable of can help to unlock potential in those who do not think they have any. She asserts that teachers need to praise effort rather than ability.

What does she research?

Dweck describes her work as a bridge between developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology. She examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behaviour. Her work looks at the origins of these mindsets; their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes. 

What she says:

"I have always been deeply moved by outstanding achievement and saddened by wasted potential." "No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment."

What others say:

New York Magazine has described Dweck's work as 'seminal' while Matthew Syed, author of Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, has likewise suggested that the implications of Dweck's theory could be 'radical' if parents and schools adopt the approach of praising effort rather than intelligence.However, there is some concern in education research that Dweck's original concept has become over simplified, and much of the nuance of the theory that made it effective has been lost in practice. John Hattie, in Visible Learning for Teachers suggests that praise in whatever form has little impact on achievement.

Why you should consider reading more:

As well as her academic books, Dweck has written a lot of accessible explanations and justifications of her different theories, and how they relate to education and pupil achievement. In 2015 she wrote 'The Secret to Raising Smart Kids' for Scientific American, an evocative piece calling on teachers to encourage growth mindsets in their pupils.

Top reads:

Further info:


EdProfessional members:

After logging into EdCentral,visit the research section and type 'Hirsch' into the search engine to view content summaries, further details, links and reviews relating to his work. You might also be interested in reading our blog: 'The impact of E D Hirsch on the UK education curriculum'

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