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Posted: September 4th, 2023

Mindset Theory: Understanding Fixed vs. Growth Mindset (Dweck)

Mindset Theory: Understanding Fixed vs. Growth Mindset (Dweck) – Identity Theories

Do intelligence and other traits come from innate and fixed factors or are they variable factors that can be influenced through learning, effort, training, and practice? Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, proposed mindset theory to understand the effects of people’s beliefs on the nature of intelligence, with implications for learning and education. This article explains the concept of mindset theory and its implications, particularly for motivation to practice and learn.

Mindset Theory: Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

In her earlier research, Dweck identified “entity” and “incremental” theorists based on whether individuals attributed success in tasks that required intelligent behavior to having sufficient native aptitude (entity) or to having practiced a skill and improving performance over time (incremental). Eventually, she proposed a theory of “mindset” to integrate several related ideas developed over the years.

A mindset refers to the implicit theories that individuals hold regarding the nature of intelligent behavior. If individuals attribute intelligence to fixed traits, they hold a “fixed” theory of intelligence or a fixed mindset. In contrast, if they attribute intelligence to learning, effort, training, and practice, they hold a “growth” theory of intelligence or a growth mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities, such as intelligence and other personality traits, are “set in stone,” not something that can be developed. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that effort or training can change one’s qualities and traits.

Implications for Learning and Education

Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to be interested only in feedback on their success in activities to the degree that it serves to evaluate their underlying ability. They do not use feedback to learn, as they do not believe that their success depends on their effort to learn. Instead, they believe that success depends on their innate ability level, making them dread failure as it suggests constraints or limits that they will not be able to overcome.

In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset attribute success to learning. Therefore, they are not afraid of failure, as it only signals the need to pay attention, invest effort, apply time to practice, and master the new learning opportunity. They are confident that after such effort, they will be able to learn the skill or knowledge and improve their performance.

Messages to children can influence the development of mindset. Praise for a child’s performance can produce a fixed mindset when it attributes success to the child’s intelligence, implying aptitude or fixed traits. However, attributions of success to effort and practice can spur a child to develop a growth mindset.

Implications for Employers and Politicians

Mindset theory may affect broader issues such as how employers focus on hiring staff and how politicians fund public education. Employers that hold a fixed mindset may focus more on investing in high-ability employees and invest less in professional development and ongoing training. Politicians who believe that the learning of which children are capable is limited by fixed traits may resist calls to improve funding for public education, perhaps considering such additional funding an unnecessary investment to try to improve fixed abilities. However, those same politicians might be willing to support spending on programs for the gifted when entrance to such programs is filtered by intelligence tests.

International Differences in Mindset

International differences in mindset may also exist. Americans and Western Europeans may be more likely to attribute success to innate ability (fixed mindset) than to effort and practice, given the history of the prevalence of the use of intelligence tests for the past century. The reverse may be the case in many Asian nations, particularly China, where the culture of education emphasizes learning and rigorous practice.


Mindset theory provides an understanding of the effects of people’s beliefs on the nature of intelligence. The theory has implications for motivation, learning, and education. People with a fixed mindset believe that their traits and qualities are innate and fixed, while those with a growth mindset believe that they can be developed through effort, training, and practice. Children’s mindset can be influenced by messages they receive from parents and teachers, such as praising effort and practice instead of innate ability. Differences in mindset can affect broader issues such as how employers focus on hiring staff and how politicians fund public education.

It is important to note that mindset theory is not without its criticisms. Some researchers argue that the fixed and growth mindset distinction is too simplistic and does not fully capture the complexity of human beliefs about intelligence and personality traits. Others suggest that the theory may have limited practical applications and that more research is needed to determine its effectiveness in educational settings.

Despite these criticisms, mindset theory has had a significant impact on the fields of psychology and education. By highlighting the importance of effort, practice, and a growth mindset, the theory has inspired new approaches to teaching and learning that prioritize the development of skills and abilities over innate talent. As such, mindset theory is likely to continue to influence our understanding of intelligence and motivation for years to come.


Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.
Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Constable & Robinson Limited.
Kline, R. B., Suldo, S. M., & Oades-Sese, G. V. (2020). Examining the Effects of a Growth Mindset Intervention on the Academic Achievement of Students with Learning Disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 35(2), 69-82.
MacIntyre, P. D., Mercer, S., & Gregersen, T. (2021). Mindsets and motivation in language learning: A research agenda. Language Teaching, 54(2), 220-235.
Henderson, J. L., & Dweck, C. S. (1990). The relationship between mothers’ beliefs about children’s learning and mothers’ teaching behavior. Child Development, 61(5), 1380-1393.
Heslin, P. A., VandeWalle, D., & Latham, G. P. (2006). Keen to help? Managers’ implicit person theories and their subsequent employee coaching. Personnel Psychology, 59(4), 871-902.

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