The Power of Believing that You Can Improve: Carol S. Dweck to Host Talks May 4

 In Events, Featured, Learning Disposition
CArol lecturing better

Dweck says it’s important to believe that talent can be developed. 

Discussions with Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.,
Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology,
Stanford University

Monday, May 4, 2015

6:45 p.m. Faculty Meeting (Kemper Auditorium)

2:15 to 4:00 p.m. Informal conversations with faculty and community (Pearson C)

4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Drop-in conversations with students (Pearson C)

During her visit to PA, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., will discuss topics of motivation, why people succeed (or don’t), and how to foster success. A social psychologist and pioneer researcher in the field of mindset and motivation, Dweck has illuminated how praising children’s efforts—instead of their outcomes—is crucial to helping them to develop a “growth mindset,” through which they believe in their potential for improvement and success in school and during their lives. According to Dweck, the brains of children and adults can actually grow in capacity to learn and to solve new problems. On the other hand,  a fixed mindset is the belief that talent and ability are predetermined.

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes” Dweck has said. “But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

Dweck points out that society promotes both mindsets, though often not equally. “Practice makes perfect,” for example, is a prevalent message, but even more pervasive is the worship of genius and talent. As a professor, she encourages her students to look at superstars in a new light.

“I teach a freshman seminar here at Stanford every year on mindsets,” said Dweck. “For one assignment I have the students do research on their hero and find out whether the hero was so famous or successful because they were naturally talented or whether they in fact had to overcome a lot of adversity and work really hard. Not once has it ever been the case that their hero coasted.”

Promoting Proper Praise
One of Dweck’s seminal studies on mindset involved several hundred fifth graders. Dweck and her colleagues gave students questions from a nonverbal IQ test. Dweck reported that, after the first 10 problems, the researchers praised some students for their intelligence.

Wow … that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this. And they praised others for their process: Wow … that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard. They found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed mindset more often than did pats on the back for effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for example, shied away from a challenging assignment—they wanted an easy one instead—far more often than the kids applauded for their process. Most of those praised for their hard work wanted the difficult problem set from which they would learn. When the researchers gave everyone difficult problems, students who had been praised for being smart became discouraged and doubted their ability. And their scores, even on an easier problem set, declined as compared with their previous results on equivalent problems. In contrast, students praised for their hard work did not lose confidence when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed.

Dweck has conducted numerous other important studies in children and adults of all ages. Her work has been featured in publications such as The New Yorker, Time, New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. She has also appeared on Today and 20/20 and recently gave a TED Talk that received more than two million views. Her books include the widely acclaimed Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006) and Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development (2000), which was named Book of the Year by the World Education Federation.

Cultivating a Learning Disposition at PA

A number of PA faculty and community members are exploring concepts like mindset and motivation in their work and approaches to teaching and learning. For example, Tang Institute fellow, Noah Rachlin, Instructor of History and Social Science, is leading a project titled, “‘I Can’t Do that … Yet’”: Cultivating a Learning Disposition,” which explores the concepts of mindset, motivation, deliberate practice, and focus. In collaboration with colleagues and external partners, his aim is to help cultivate in students a “learning disposition,” so that they are prepared to overcome the inevitable challenge and struggle of learning both in and out of the classroom. Rachlin considers how educators can better help students to become lifelong learners who are comfortable embracing challenge because they understand it as a natural and essential component of their growth and development.

Be Part of the Discussion!

For more information on Dweck’s work, visit

In addition, view this recent blog entry that provides concrete strategies for educators and students looking to deploy a learning disposition in and out of the classroom. Please participate in an online discussion by adding comments to the blog post’s Web page.


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