The Power of a Growth Mindset

Imagine you just received your results for THE test of the semester. After days on end of non stop studying, you open your results and realize you performed poorly. How would you react? Can you see yourself accepting your mistakes and moving forward with the intention of improving, or do you see yourself blaming it on your inability to grasp the subject? How you view your failures is the defining factor between possessing a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. 


Motivation


Before we dive into the concept of growth and fixed mindsets, we must first understand the role motivation plays in our daily lives. 


In our previous post The Science of Staying Motivated, we discuss the different types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a subconscious drive, pushing you to to complete tasks based on your own interest and enjoyment. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is based on incentives and the completion of tasks due to external factors. In fact, intrinsic motivation is potentially the stronger of the two, a claim that is supported through the research of Edward Deci.


In 1999, Edward L. Deci et al. conducted a meta analysis of 128 studies with the intention of examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. They found that the expectation of rewards following completion of a task significantly undermined the participants interest, along with overall intrinsic motivation. Following the publication of these findings, Edward Deci has continued to support his theory through conducting new research and disproving opposition to his findings. Deci’s work has reinforced the proposal that extrinsic incentives and intrinsic motivation are inversely correlated, with the introduction of rewards resulting in a decrease in motivation. Research has also shown that this finding is not exclusive to tangible rewards. 


Praise directed towards an individual’s intelligence has also been shown to be detrimental to motivation and intelligence. This was supported by Xin Gao et al., who studied the effects of praise on performance and future actions. They found that praise directed towards an individual's ability was likely to breed self-handicapping behaviors, along with a reduction in performance levels. This is in contrast to participants receiving praise based on effort or no praise at all. When administering praise, the results indicate that commendation based on value of work can be extremely harmful, as it can lead to a reduction in effort and ultimately, failure.


When and where to administer praise can be difficult to gauge. The question remains: how can one promote sufficient performance while also fostering intrinsic motivation and genuine intrigue? The answer can be found in the establishment of a growth mindset.


Growth Mindset


Carol Dweck proposed the existence of different mindsets and their potential effect on mental growth. As stated by Dr. Dweck, a growth mindset is defined by an individual’s belief in intellectual growth. To specify, those that believe their skills and intelligence can be developed through hard work have a growth mindset. Opposingly, individuals with a fixed mindset tend to believe their talents are innate. In essence, possessing a growth mindset revolves around the belief that intelligence is malleable and attainable with the right amount of effort. 


Evidence for the existence of different mindsets have been researched utilizing neuroscientific methods. One method, for example, utilized EEG measurements, which measure neuroelectrical activity over a period of time. Event related potentials, or ERP’s, are brain responses resulting from specific stimuli, such as experiencing sensory stimuli or undergoing different motor functions. Jason S. Moser et al. observed neural activity related to making a mistake and how said activity differed in people possessing a growth mindset versus fixed mindset. The researchers found that following an error, subjects possessing a reported growth mindset exhibited enhancements in the error positivity component, which is an ERP elicited when one becomes aware of their mistakes. Furthermore, growth minded participants showed increased accuracy following mistakes, improving more and more as the experiment went on. This evidence indicates that there are potential neural correlates to having a growth mindset, meaning brain functioning may differ between two people possessing different approaches to life. 


Moving past its neurological underpinnings, research surrounding the application of a growth mindset has revealed this approach to be a possible indicator of achievement. Income and socioeconomic status have always been shown to play a role in success. It is no secret that individuals located higher on the socioeconomic ladder have an easier time finding opportunities to help bring about and boost achievement. When studying underprivileged students, Susana Claro et al. found that utilizing a growth mindset approach can potentially temper the effects of poverty on academic success. Susana and her colleagues surveyed students, their families, and their corresponding schools. Data was obtained regarding participant’s academic performance and their views of intelligence, specifically whether they thought it was a fixed trait or malleable. They found that students from lower income families were less likely to apply a growth mindset in their lives. However, following its application, these same students saw heightened academic growth and achievement comparable to those of significantly higher socioeconomic status. For example, students in the lower 10th percentile of family income, upon applying a growth mindset, were found to perform academically as high as those in the upper 80th percentile of income. These results illustrate the power behind your approach to intellectual growth, as shifting your mindset towards strengthening skills may temper what we cannot control. 


Motivation and Mindset


Now that we understand the importance of intrinsic motivation and that applying a growth mindset can change our quality of life, how are both concepts related? Establishing a growth mindset can be used to increase motivation and improve an individual’s self efficiency. Susannah Bedford found that by teaching individuals about intelligence and its potential to grow, the importance of learning becomes easier to grasp and self efficacy/regulation improves drastically. Additionally, motivation to learn emerges directly from a growth mindset This is indicated in her finding that seeing the value behind what is being taught pushed students to adopt growth mindsets, further motivating them to enhance their knowledge in an academic setting. 


Now returning to our question regarding how to foster intrinsic motivation, it is clear that a growth mindset can promote intrigue and the desire to grow. By understanding and believing intelligence is malleable, our inclination to improve upon our mistakes and overall intelligence can be increased. In addition, extrinsic motivators may seem enticing at first glance, but these incentives can actually hinder your intellectual growth. Rather than solely seeking out compensation for learning, look towards topics of interest and expand your knowledge in areas that excite you. In doing so, both an increase in motivation and the development of a growth mindset can be incited. 


LIFE Intelligence


Through LIFE Intelligence, you can learn about the steps needed in developing a growth mindset and how to avoid establishing a fixed mindset. 


Mission 1.5 is all about growing a growth mindset. This mission highlights the importance of praising effort in contrast to praising performance. By praising performance, people have a tendency to focus on “image maintenance”, referring to when individuals choose easier tasks instead of difficult ones in order to maintain their “smart” image. This mission tells us that by praising the process of learning, we can avoid image maintenance and promote perseverance and engagement. Mission 3 teaches us about goal-setting and how self-efficacy can affect motivation. Mission 3.1 informs us that although incentives such as money may develop our extrinsic motivation, lacking self efficacy and intrinsic motivation leads to a decline in interest. By developing your intrinsic motivation alongside your overall mindset, LIFE Intelligence promotes future success and intellectual evolution. 


Conclusion


A growth mindset is not something that sprouts out of nowhere. Just like any other skill, it is something that needs to be trained and nurtured in order to be utilized to its full potential. By placing progress and learning at the center of our achievements, this skill can be fostered and ultimately used to attain future goals and success. So instead of giving up and accepting defeat, open up your LIFE Intelligence app and learn how you can grow your own growth mindset.


References:


Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627–668.


Xing S, Gao X, Jiang Y, Archer M, Liu X. (2018). Effects of Ability and Effort Praise on Children's Failure Attribution, Self-Handicapping, and Performance. Front Psychol. 9:1883.


Dweck S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means. Harvard Business Review.  


Moser, J. S., Schroder, H. S., Heeter, C., Moran, T. P., & Lee, Y.-H. (2011). Mind Your Errors. Psychological Science, 22(12), 1484–1489.


Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(31), 8664–8668.


Bedford, S. (2017). Growth mindset and motivation: a study into secondary school science learning. Research Papers in Education, 32(4), 424–443.


By Lucas Bezerra
Just Five Minutes a Day
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