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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 19/11/2006

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently for a book I’m writing on confidence and young people. One of my favourite psychology professors is Carol Dweck and I think her work has a huge amount to offer us in Scotland. For the best part of twenty years she has been undertaking interesting research in the field of personality and motivation. Some teachers in Scotland may be aware of her theories as they have been summarised and built on by Glasgow-based educational psychologist Alan McLean in his book The Motivated School. However, until recently her theories have been needlessly obtuse. However, in her new book Mindset she has now popularised her ideas.

In Mindset she says there are two basic attitudes to achievement and intelligence. The first she calls ‘the fixed mindset’. This mindset upholds the idea that people’s ability is fairly fixed and not open to change. According to such a view, people are either intelligent, sporty, arty, good at maths etc or they aren’t. This mindset also labels people according to personal characteristics. So people are either good or bad, caring or selfish etc. In Dweck’s original work she referred to this as an ‘entity theory’ in that it treats human capabilities and characteristics as if they were ‘carved in stone’. In other words, it views human abilities and behaviours as innate, unchangeable things like inanimate objects such as tables and chairs.

The growth mindset has a different starting point. It sees people as essentially malleable. In other words, they aren’t fixed but have huge potential for growth and development. This mindset accepts that a small minority of people are born with unusual levels of talent or ability (the geniuses). At the other end of the spectrum are people who have severe learning difficulties. But this view asserts that the vast majority of individuals fall between these two extremes and that with enough motivation, effort and concentration they can become better at almost anything. In her original work, Dweck calls this the ‘incremental theory’ to suggest the idea that people are capable of making incremental changes in ability and other personal characteristics through effort or learning strategies.

This very simple theory of different views of people has enormous implications for learning and how teachers and parents interact with young people. I don’t have space here to outline what these implications are but I’m sure regular visitors to the site will be pleased to know that Professor Dweck is recording a telephone lecture for the Centre next week. So we’ll soon have her on the website explaining just how important her theories are not just for parents and teachers but anyone working in business or an environment where human development matters.

I would particularly like to see Dweck’s work make an impact on Scotland as I think we are such a judgemental culture and that the fixed mindset dominates every area of life. What’s my evidence for this? There’s not enough space to present my arguments but here’s a thought: Dweck argues that the fixed mindset leads to huge competition and jostling for position as people have to prove they are clever, talented and so forth. If Dweck were coming to Scotland to give the lecture, rather than sit at her desk in Stanford, what would she see as she gets off the plane? "Welcome to the best small country in the world". Competitive or what?

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