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Two mindsets

Carol Dweck,Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has spent the last 30 years carrying out research into peoples' beliefs about their ability. The wealth of research supporting her theory gives mindsets a strong foundation.Based on her empirical research, primarily with young people, Dweck argues that people throughout the world can be divided into two basic 'mindsets'.

The fixed mindset

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 good or bad, caring or selfish and so on. In Dweck's original work she referred to this as an 'identity theory' in that it treats human capabilities and characteristics as if they were 'carved in stone' and individuals as if they are 'finished products'. In other words, it views human abilities and behaviours as innate, unchangeable things like inanimate objects such as tables and chairs.

The growth mindset

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 and who have some barriers to learning though they still have huge potential to develop skills. Nonetheless this view asserts that around 95 per cent of the population 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.

It is important to note that Dweck is not disputing the fact that some people find some types of activities or learning easier than others. What she disputes is that others can't learn:

Just because some people can do something with little or no training, doesn't mean that others can't do it (and sometimes do it better), with training. This is so important , because many, many people with the fixed mindset think that someone's early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future. 

This very simple theory of different views of people has enormous implications for learning and how teachers and parents interact with young people. 

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