Innate Ability or Passion and Commitment?

May 27, 2011

Why So Few? Chapter 2Each 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.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University conducted a study in 2005 in which one group of adolescents was taught that great math thinkers had a lot of innate ability and natural talent (a fixed-mindset message), while another group was taught that great math thinkers were profoundly interested in and committed to math and worked hard to make their contributions and breakthroughs (a growth-mindset message). On a subsequent challenging math test, the girls who had received the fixed-mindset message did significantly worse than their male counterparts; however, no gender difference was found among the students who had received the growth-mindset message, even when the stereotype about girls and math was mentioned before the test.

Dweck explains, “Students are getting this message that things come easily to people who are geniuses, and only if you’re a genius do you make these great discoveries. But more and more research is showing that people who made great contributions struggled. And maybe they enjoyed the struggle, but they struggled. The more we can help kids enjoy that effort rather than feel that it’s undermining, the better off they’ll be.”

By:   |   May 27, 2011


  1. Marcia Weissman says:

    I wonder why the boys who got the fixed-mindset message did not do worse on the test. Do they all think they are geniuses? Or does it not bother them if they aren’t? Apparently girls react differently to the message than boys do.

  2. Christianne Corbett says:


    Good question. According to Dr. Dweck’s research findings, the reason the fixed mindset message affects girls in math more negatively than boys is because of the continuing stereotype that boys are “naturally” better than girls at math. When boys receive the message that math abilities are fixed, it may not affect them as negatively as it does girls because boys may believe that math abilities are indeed fixed and that they have those abilities.

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