Mind-sets

(About psychology rather than language.)

From the 4/25/16 issue of  Psychological Science, “What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets? Not Their Parents’ Views of Intelligence but Their Parents’ Views of Failure” by Kyla Haimovitz and Carol S. Dweck of Stanford’s psychology department. The first sentence of the abstract introduces the crucial piece of background: Dweck’s important work on intelligence mind-sets and how they affect the way people (children, in particular) are motivated to work at certain tasks, thus affecting their ability to master those tasks (see Dweck’s 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success). But, Haimovitz and Dweck ask, where do kids get their intelligence mind-sets?

The title gives the pay-off in a nutshell; here’s the abstract, with more detail:

Children’s intelligence mind-sets (i.e., their beliefs about whether intelligence is fixed or malleable) robustly influence their motivation and learning. Yet, surprisingly, research has not linked parents’ intelligence mind-sets to their children’s. We tested the hypothesis that a different belief of parents — their failure mind-sets—may be more visible to children and therefore more prominent in shaping their beliefs. In Study 1, we found that parents can view failure as debilitating or enhancing, and that these failure mind-sets predict parenting practices and, in turn, children’s intelligence mind-sets. Study 2 probed more deeply into how parents display failure mind-sets. In Study 3a, we found that children can indeed accurately perceive their parents’ failure mind-sets but not their parents’ intelligence mind-sets. Study 3b showed that children’s perceptions of their parents’ failure mind-sets also predicted their own intelligence mind-sets. Finally, Study 4 showed a causal effect of parents’ failure mind-sets on their responses to their children’s hypothetical failure. Overall, parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.

It’s a hard lesson — harder for some people than others — that you can learn from failure, indeed that learning complex skills requires that you persist through failures, improving your performance over time.

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