Students' Mindsets: The Perils of Praise and the Promise of Growing Intelligence

Carol S. Dweck, 2014

The media tell us we’ve produced a generation of young people who can’t get through the day without an award—a generation that expects success because they are special, not because they’ve worked hard. Is this true? Have we held back our students?

I believe American students have been held back by two beliefs that many educators hold:

  1. The belief that praising students’ intelligence builds their confidence and motivation to learn, and
  2. The belief that students’ inherent intelligence is the major cause of their school achievement

Our research has shown that the first belief is false and that the second belief can be harmful—even for very able students.

For over 35 years I have been studying students’ motivation. We (my students and I) have studied thousands of children, asking why some enjoy learning, even when it’s hard, and are resilient in the face of obstacles. We have learned a great deal. In this article, I will describe research that shows how to praise children in ways that, in fact, yield motivation and resilience. I will also describe interventions that reverse students’ slide into failure during the vulnerable period of adolescence, bringing renewed motivation and learning.

Both lines of work highlight the importance of students’ mindsets and, in particular, their belief that their intellectual abilities—rather than being innate and fixed—can be enhanced through their efforts. Let me begin by describing students’ mindsets and their impact.

Readings: the full text of all recommended readings can be downloaded. If you already have an account, please login to download. If you do not yet have a (free) account, please click here to sign up.