Beliefs about Intelligence

May 24, 2011

Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

So often when something comes quickly to a student, we say, “Oh, you’re really good at this.” The message there is, “I think you’re smart when you do something that doesn’t require any effort or you haven’t challenged yourself.” Someone said to me recently, “In your culture, struggle is a bad word,” and I thought, that’s right. We talk about it as an unfortunate thing, but when you think about a career in science or math … of course you struggle. That’s the name of the game! If you’re going to discover something new or invent something new, it’s a struggle. So I encourage educators to celebrate that, to say, “Who had a fantastic struggle? Tell me about your struggle!”
— Carol Dweck

Why So Few? Chapter 2Carol Dweck is a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University who has studied the foundations of motivation for over 40 years. This week’s posts are about Dweck’s research findings, the first of the eight findings described in depth in AAUW’s Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Dweck’s research provides evidence that a “growth mindset” (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a “fixed mindset” (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) is likely to lead to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm.

According to Dweck’s research findings, individuals with a fixed mindset are susceptible to a loss of confidence when they encounter challenges, because they believe that if they are truly “smart,” things will come easily to them. If they have to work hard at something, they tend to question their abilities and lose confidence, and they are likely to give up because they believe they are not good at the task and that because their intelligence is fixed, they will never be good at it.

Individuals with a growth mindset, on the other hand, show a far greater belief in the power of effort, and in the face of difficulty, their confidence actually grows because they believe they are learning and getting smarter as a result of challenging themselves.

Embracing the idea of a growth mindset is particularly helpful for girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

By:   |   May 24, 2011

1 Comment

  1. Nan Williams says:

    I find this research interesting and am happy to share it with students I know.

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