Carol Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist who has spent over 30-years researching growth mindset.  Dr. Dweck reports growth mindset is the understanding that we can develop our abilities and intelligence.


Dr. Dweck found that a child’s mindset about his or her own intelligence has a significant impact on their effort, motivation, and approach to challenges.  Those who believe their abilities are flexible are more likely to take on challenges and not give up despite failure.


 Teachers and parents need to use specific praise that focuses on children’s effort, concentration, and strategies.  For example, next time your child gets a good grade in a class for which you know he or she studied hard, praise them for their effort and suggest they enroll in a harder class next semester.  The key is to be specific about the praise you give. Do not praise intelligence, but effort.


The feedback we give children can impact their mindsets in unexpected ways. For instance, praise for intelligence, such as “You’re so smart!” is thought to be motivating and good for children.  However, research shows that it has a negative effect on student motivation and/or achievement. Researchers, Dweck and Mueller divided fifth grade students into two groups and had them work on a puzzle task. One group, after accomplishing the task, was praised for their intelligence and ability.

The other group, also after accomplishing the task, was praised for their effort, rather than intelligence. When this easy task became harder, the groups responded to the challenge in very diverse ways. Children praised for intelligence chose to continue working on the easier puzzles, while students praised for effort decided to progress to more challenging puzzles. The effort-praised group sought out more challenging tasks and reported learning goals as most motivating. The intelligence-praised group avoided challenge in favor of ensured success, and cited performance or “looking smart” as their goal. Therefore, praise for intelligence resulted in reduced persistence, reduced enjoyment, and worse performance than praise for effort. Students who are praised for high ability attribute their success to a fixed or unchangeable quality of themselves (innate intelligence), while students praised for effort realize their performance is subject to improvement, which is growth mindset.


 Dweck, C.S. & Mueller, C.M. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (75), 33-52.

Dweck, C.S. & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality, Psychological Review 95, (2), 256-273.