False Growth Mindsets: An Exploration

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-1165-8938
Buttrick, Nicholas, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timothy, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

Incremental beliefs about intelligence (commonly known as “growth mindsets”) have become a topic of intense interest among researchers, educators, and the general public. Believing that one’s intelligence can grow over time as long as one tries hard and has the appropriate strategies (as opposed to believing that intelligence is a fixed quality about a person that cannot be changed, commonly known as “fixed-mindset” or entity theories) is associated with greater persistence after failure and improved academic performance. The full message isn’t always fully conveyed, however, with some believing that a growth mindset simply means that anyone can succeed with hard work alone - that one should just “try, try again.” This “false growth mindset” may be more prevalent than believed, and may have serious consequences. I investigate the roots and consequences of holding a false growth mindset in three studies with over 10,000 participants, including both a nationally-representative sample of 9th graders and their math teachers, and samples including nearly 4,000 nationally-representative American adults. In Study 1, I find, in a preregistered analysis, that over 38% of teachers can be characterized as holding a false growth mindset, and that students in these classrooms are more likely to view their teachers as holding an entity theory of intelligence, are more likely to hold such a belief about their own abilities, and are therefore more likely to have lower end-of year grades. In Studies 2 and 3, I then develop and validate a measure of false growth mindset beliefs, designing a scale that discriminates across a full range of potential levels, that is interpreted comparably across adults and high-schoolers, that captures a construct that is distinct from other measures of incremental thinking, and that predicts both theoretically-relevant pattern of belief and predicts societal victim-blaming above and beyond competing constructs.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
growth mindset, psychometrics, attribution, blame
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