The Growth Mindset

In a recent study, a group of psychologists decided to see if this differential reaction is simply behavioral, or if it actually goes deeper, to the level of brain performance. The researchers measured response-locked event-related potentials (ERPs)—electric neural signals that result from either an internal or external event—in the brains of college students as they took part in a simple flanker task. The students were shown a string of five letters and asked to quickly identify the middle letter. The letters could be congruent—for instance, MMMMM—or they might be incongruent —for example, MMNMM.

While performance accuracy was generally high, around 91 percent, the specific task parameters were hard enough that everyone made some mistakes. But where individuals differed was in how both they—and, crucially, their brains— responded to the mistakes. Those who had an incremental mindset (i.e., believed that intelligence was fluid) performed better following error trials than those who had an entity mindset (i.e., believed intelligence was fixed). Moreover, as that incremental mindset increased, positivity ERPs on error trials as opposed to correct trials increased as well. And the larger the error positivity amplitude on error trials, the more accurate the post-error performance.

So what exactly does that mean? From the data, it seems that a growth mindset, whereby you believe that intelligence can improve, lends itself to a more adaptive response to mistakes—not just behaviorally but neurally. The more someone believes in improvement, the larger the amplitude of a brain signal that reflects a conscious allocation of attention to errors. And the larger that neural signal, the better the subsequent performance. That mediation suggests that individuals with an incremental theory of intelligence may actually have better self-monitoring and control systems on a very basic neural level: their brains are better at monitoring their own, self-generated errors and at adjusting their behavior accordingly. It’s a story of improved online error awareness —of noticing mistakes as they happen, and correcting for them immediately.


Women who are given examples of females successful in scientific and technical fields don’t experience the negative performance effects on math tests. College students exposed to Dweck’s theories of intelligence— specifically, the incremental theory—have higher grades and identify more with the academic process at the end of the semester. In one study, minority students who wrote about the personal significance of a self-defining value (such as family relationships or musical interests) three to five times during the school year had a GPA that was 0.24 grade points higher over the course of two years than those who wrote about neutral topics—and lowachieving African Americans showed improvements of 0.41 points on average. Moreover, the rate of remediation dropped from 18 percent to 5 percent.


Understanding that intelligence is plastic and improvable increases performance on certain tests.

Folksonomies: intelligence plasticity

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 Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Konnikova , Maria (2013-01-03), Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Viking Adult, Retrieved on 2013-03-21
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  • Folksonomies: psychology mindfulness