Growth mindset: A failure to replicate

10 Jul

Carole Dweck’s work has received a great deal of attention. Essentially she argues that an individual’s beliefs about intelligence is a powerful predictor of scholastic attainment. In a Scientific American article she wrote:

 Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.

Now a study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, fails to replicate these findings. Here is the abstract:

Implicit theories of intelligence have been proposed to predict a large number of different outcomes in education. The belief that intelligence is malleable (growth mindset) is supposed to lead to better academic achievement and students’ mindset is therefore a potential target for interventions. The present study used a large sample of university applicants (N = 5653) taking a scholastic aptitude test to further examine the relationship between mindset and achievement in the academic domain. We found that results in the test were slightly negatively associated with growth mindset (r = − 0.03). Mindset showed no relationship with the number of test administrations participants signed up for and it did not predict change in the test results. The results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought.

Note, however, the limitations reported by the authors:

In sum, we found that mindset had virtually no association with results in a scholastic aptitude test used for university admissions. While the association between mindset and goal achievement was previously shown to be weak (Burnette et al., 2013), our study presents a large amount of new data suggesting that the association may be even weaker than previously thought. Given that recent large scale experiments suggest that learning growth mindset improves academic achievement (Paunesku et al., 2015; Yeager et al., 2016a, b), our study does not invalidate the notion that implicit theories of intelligence might be a promising target for educational interventions. However, it suggests that mindset might not be as useful for predicting future success or that its predictive abilities are at least limited to specific circumstances. Yet, we note that our study has several limitations including possible self selection and range-restriction effects, a short measure of mindset, and a short duration between subsequent administrations of the test. We also did not include measures of hypothesized mediating variables, such as the amount of practice, and the mindset measure was not directly tailored to assess beliefs about the possibility of improvement in the GAP test. Future studies may overcome these limitations and thus better explain differences between results of the present and past studies.


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