Plasticity in Progress

[UPDATE May 24, 2010: Carol Dweck is mentioned in a number of my posts, and here is a May 9, 2010 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education – Carol Dweck’s Attitude, It’s not about how smart you are]

Psychologists Lisa Blackwell (Columbia University) and Carol Dweck (Stamford University) have done research showing children can improve on their studies once they learn that intelligence is something that they can develop and control. Dweck calls this a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset”. By simply teaching students that the brain can learn and change, in other words, that the brain can grow, the students realized their brains are malleable. This self-knowledge gave them the internal motivation to enhance their own learning.

Blackwell’s and Dweck’s study supports the idea of neuroplasticity, and is a prime example of the power of positive thinking in influencing brain growth. Their study followed about one hundred seventh graders who had difficulty with, and were low performing in math. The students were randomly placed into two groups. One group was given extra study skills sessions, and the other group was taught about the brain and that intelligence was not fixed so thus it could be changed.

At the end of the term both groups of students’ math grades were reviewed. Those students in the Brain 101 group had substantially improved math scores. In interviews with those students, it was apparent they had taken to heart the concept that their brains could change. This positive knowledge, both of knowing they had control over expanding their minds and that they would not have to remain negatively pigeonholed, had made it possible for them to learn. I am intrigued by this, as it sounds like so simple a fix, and suspect that, while having this kind of knowledge about one’s own brain would be empowering, it may require some additional interventions to help math students who struggle with the subject.

In the video below Carol Dweck explains the two different mindsets, and why your mindset matters.

dweck.pngDweck has written the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which I have not yet read. In addition to her book, there are numerous interviews and articles available about Dweck’s and Blackwell’s studies, and these I have listened to or read.

• ITConversations: Tech Nation – Thirty minute interview by Dr. Moira Gunn of Dr, Carol Dweck (3/14/06) – an indepth, well-rounded discussion
• New York Magazine – How Not to Talk to Your Kids (2/12/07) – lengthy article with helpful suggestions
• NPR – Students’ View of Intelligence Can Help Grades (2/15/07) – brief overview of the research
• Stanford Magazine – The Effort Effect (March/April/07 issue) – includes a link to a graphic comparison of the mindsets
• edutopia – Tell Students to Feed Their Brains (3/16/07) – useful suggestions plus links to additional articles, including Don’t Weigh the Elephant — Feed the Elephant


For my Follow-Up to this post, see my January 7, 2008 entry All Roads Lead To…Carol Dweck?

4 thoughts on “Plasticity in Progress

  1. Pingback: Serendipity with Carol Dweck | Neurons Firing

  2. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Shawna,
    Thank you for stopping by! I am so glad that you found the post useful. I highly recommend you read Carol Dweck’s book, and suspect that if you do, you will feel like you’ve found a kindred thinker!

  3. Shawna Pope

    Hello, My name is Shawna and I’m a speech-language pathologist, currently teaching at Southern Illinois University. I just started reading about neuroplasticity and am very intrigued and excited bout it.
    I had a “exactly what I’m finding!” moment when I read this piece on growth mindset. More and more I am finding learning challenges in the classroom. In our field your career does not amount to much if you do not get into graduate school.
    We have admitted students with learning differences and have had mixed results. The common denomonator among those students who are successful is a willingness to accept feedback and change the way they are studying/approaching things. Students who have failed and not finished graduate school are “fixed.” The become defensive and resistant to self-reflection and feedback from supervisors.
    It’s so exciting to read this in print, I’ve really just started putting words together to attempt to explain the difference among students. It looks like I’m on the right track!

    I think I’m really going to enjoy your blog,


  4. Pingback: Learning & the Brain – Taylor & Lamoreaux (adult learning) « Neurons Firing

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