SSC discussion: growth mindset

by tog 1 min read11th Apr 201518 comments


(Continuing the posting of select posts from Slate Star Codex for comment here, as discussed in this thread, and as Scott gave me - and anyone else - permission to do with some exceptions.)

Scott Alexander recently posted about growth mindset, with a clarificatory followup post here. He discussed some possible weaknesses of its advocates - as well as their strength. Here's a quote outlining the positions discussed:

[Bloody Obvious Position]: innate ability might matter, but that even the most innate abilityed person needs effort to fulfill her potential. If someone were to believe that success were 100% due to fixed innate ability and had nothing to do with practice, then they wouldn’t bother practicing, and they would fall behind. [...]

[Somewhat Controversial Position]: The more children believe effort matters, and the less they believe innate ability matters, the more successful they will be. This is because every iota of belief they have in effort gives them more incentive to practice. A child who believes innate ability and effort both explain part of the story might think “Well, if I practice I’ll become a little better, but I’ll never be as good as Mozart. So I’ll practice a little but not get my hopes up.” A child who believes only effort matters, and innate ability doesn’t matter at all, might think “If I practice enough, I can become exactly as good as Mozart.” Then she will practice a truly ridiculous amount to try to achieve fame and fortune. This is why growth mindset works.

[Very Controversial Position]: Belief in the importance of ability directly saps a child’s good qualities in some complicated psychological way. It is worse than merely believing that success is based on luck, or success is based on skin color, or that success is based on whatever other thing that isn’t effort. It shifts children into a mode where they must protect their claim to genius at all costs, whether that requires lying, cheating, self-sabotaging, or just avoiding intellectual effort entirely. When a fixed mindset child doesn’t practice as much, it’s not because they’ve made a rational calculation about the utility of practice towards achieving success, it’s because they’ve partly or entirely abandoned success as a goal in favor of the goal of trying to convince other people that they’re Smart.


Carol Dweck unambiguously believes the Very Controversial Position.