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The brain's response to a growth mindset

Recent neuroimaging studies support Carol Dweck's theory of intelligence. Brain imaging experiments illustrate the benefits of adopting a ?growth mindset?. Adopting a belief that people can increase their ability through hard work and effort has been shown to have a positive impact on a persons learning and success. In contrast, adopting a ?fixed? mindset, leads to decreased performance and feelings of helplessness after failure as well as anxiety after success.

Research has shown that people adopting a ?fixed? mindset display a helpless response to failure.  What this means is that they become depressed after failure and lose the motivation to continue.  Holding a fixed mindset means that people become concerned with how good they look, because succeeding or getting a high mark reflects something about their intelligence. Being consumed with how failure reflects on intellect, means that people holding a fixed mindset often do not pay attention to information which could help them to learn. They see this ?failure? as a threat to their self-perceptions rather than a chance to improve. Those adopting a growth mindset are much more concerned with what they can learn and how feedback can be used to increase their future performance. For these people the response to failure is a mastery response.

The research carried out by Dr Mangels,and others, supports the helpless response and the mastery response seen in people holding fixed and growth mindsets. In her study, participants completed a questionnaire that showed whether they had a fixed-mindset or a growth-mindset. Then they were hooked up to a neuroimaging machine and given a test of common knowledge.  Each time the participants got a wrong answer they were given the correct answer. What the participants did not know was that after the test was over they were going to be asked to retake it.  Doing this re take would show if the person had paid attention to the learning information. Those with a growth mindset did better on the retest, compared to those with a fixed mindset. 

The Neuroimaging tests revealed that those holding a fixed belief about intelligence had less brain activity than those with a growth mindset, and their attention did not go to the learning information.  Those holding a fixed mindset were more likely to have their attention focused internally, rather than externally to the corrective information i.e. they were less interested in the feedback.  Furthermore, these participants had more activity in the limbic system, suggesting that people with a fixed mindset had increased emotional arousal, which also fits with the helpless response after failure, which the Dweck research has shown.  To read an article by Dr Mangles and Dweck click here

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