One of the most powerful ideas in psychology today is the idea of mindset. Carol Dweck, in particular, has studied the ways in which our beliefs about our capacity affect what we do. If we have a fixed mindset—about any number of human attributes–we believe our capabilities are etched in stone. If we are smart, we are smart. If we aren’t, we aren’t. If we are patient, we are patient. If not, everyone else better be forewarned. If individuals with a fixed mindset are not successful in math class, they are likely to give up or avoid math. What is the point, if they aren’t ever going to be good at it? People with a fixed mindset can lead very anxious lives, because each of life’s tests (to say nothing of school tests) serves as an indicator of whether they “have the stuff” or not.
On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that human capabilities can be cultivated through effort. If a person with a growth mindset is not good in math, they believe that through hard work they can become better. If they want to be more patient, they will be motivated to develop that attribute. A growth mindset is empowering. It doesn’t suggest that everyone can do everything, but that it is impossible to predict what a person can do with sufficient effort and motivation.
And perhaps the most important thing about mindsets, at least according to Dweck and her colleagues, is that they can be changed.
I thought of this when I read O’Connor, Nemeth and Akutsu’s 2013 article on the consequences of our beliefs regarding creativity. It seems, as would be predicted by the mindset theory, people vary in their belief as to whether creativity is fixed. Some people believe “some people have it and some don’t,” while others believe creativity can be developed. Guess which individuals were more successful in creative tasks?
If we hope to support creativity in our students—and in ourselves—it is important to consider how our beliefs about the nature of creativity may affect that effort. Do you believe you have the capacity to be more creative? Do you believe that about your students? Do they? It seems important to consider such questions when thinking about our classroom activities and climate. What messages are they sending?
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset. New York: Ballentine Books.
O’Connor A., J., Nemeth, C. J., & Akutsu, S. (2013) Consequences of beliefs about the
malleability of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 25:2, 155-162, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2013.783739