No benefit in growth mindset theory, study says

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A motivational approach to learning used widely in schools to encourage academic success does not benefit pupils, Edinburgh research suggests.

So-called growth theory—which assumes intellectual ability is not fixed but can be greatly changed—has little, or even a negative, effect on attainment, researchers say.

Psychologists who gauged the theory's impact in the classroom concluded that improved textbooks and systematic study practices are more effective ways of boosting learning.

The team tested more than 600 children and found that whether or not children believed basic can be changed had no effect on overcoming difficult challenges.

"We didn't see the remarkable results promised in earlier studies and would caution against using this approach in class. Beliefs about basic ability appear unrelated to resilience or progress in ," says Dr. Timothy Bates of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.

Hard work

Instead, they found that hard work and perseverance were vital if pupils were to make headway. Progress would be made faster if growth mindset interventions were discarded, the University of Edinburgh team says.

Growth mindset research began in the 1980s and, in common with several other ideas in psychology, has been rigorously re-examined in recent years.

The Edinburgh study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, replicated two of the most influential papers on the topic and revisited the methodology used.

Psychologists tested mindset theory in three studies involving pupils in China and, now, in the UK, all aged nine to 13. They found that growth mindset manipulation had no effect on pupils' resilience and no relationship to motivation.

Controlled studies

The sole exception in the controlled studies was one significant effect but in the reverse direction. Children with a growth mindset show worse, not better performance on more difficult material.

The researchers also studied children's grades across a semester in school. Again, the only association found was one that showed a negative impact.

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that similar failures were replicated in , with growth mindset showing zero association with performance, even in the challenging transition from school to university.

Explore further

Study finds popular 'growth mindset' educational interventions aren't very effective

More information: Yue Li et al. You can't change your basic ability, but you work at things, and that's how we get hard things done: Testing the role of growth mindset on response to setbacks, educational attainment, and cognitive ability., Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2019). DOI: 10.1037/xge0000669
Citation: No benefit in growth mindset theory, study says (2019, September 20) retrieved 17 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 20, 2019
Liberalism. Is there nothing it can't fail at?

Sep 21, 2019
Hmm, so psych doctors can run their ridiculous experiments on humans but not other.."real doctors or scientists"? Seems kinda unethical.

Sep 22, 2019
Liberalism. Is there nothing it can't fail at?

Political ideology trolling of science. Is there nothing it can't fail at?


Not overly curious, are you? 1st link in 1st search:

"A number of distinguished scientists have indulged in self-experimentation, including at least five Nobel laureates; in several cases, the prize was awarded for findings the self-experimentation made possible. Many experiments were dangerous; various people exposed themselves to pathogenic, toxic or radioactive materials. Some self-experimenters, like Jesse Lazear and Daniel Alcides Carrión, died in the course of their research. Notable examples of self-researchers occur in many fields; ..."


Sep 22, 2019
Political ideology trolling of science. Is there nothing it can't fail at?

There's actually an important point in it. Progressivism operates on the narrative that human beings can be arbitrarily changed to meet the changes in society brought about through social engineering.

It's a sort of social Lamarckism where everything is a social construct and the seemingly fundamental properties of people, such as their intelligence or their sense of self, their motivations and desires, are merely a consequence of social conditioning. Therefore, you can engineer the society to be "better" according to the subjective standards of the progressives, regardless of what the people themselves prefer and desire, because when you change the social conditioning the people will start to behave according to the new construct and everyone is happy.

The only problem is those pesky conservatives who can't accept how much better everything would be.

Sep 22, 2019
In other words, the progressive solution to the square peg and round hole problem is a hammer.

In the best Hegelian philosophical tradition, the thesis and the antithesis form a synthesis, which means that the peg will fit regardless. The shape that comes out the other end is then called a "circular rectangle" which is a round but you call it a square

The bits that were broken off are ignored.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more