In classrooms, on playgrounds, and in homes, students continually hear messages, implicit or explicit, about intelligence. The kinds of praise we offer students, the way we respond to their mistakes, and how we react to their successes, all impact their beliefs about intelligence. As a result, students hold implicit beliefs about intelligence, their own abilities, and the abilities of others.
Dr. Carol Dweck has carried out groundbreaking research on students’ understanding of intelligence and how it influences school success. Her work shows that students tend to possess one of two belief systems – or ‘mindsets’ – about intelligence. Students with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is innate and unchangeable. By contrast, students with agrowth mindset understand that intelligence is flexible. Growth-minded students realize that with dedicated effort, their skills and abilities can develop over time. These students tend to approach challenges as ‘bumps in the road’ while fixed-minded students tend to view set-backs as ‘roadblocks.’
Students’ mindsets significantly impact their success in school. Years of mounting evidence shows that growth-minded students tend to have better academic outcomes than their fix-minded peers. In addition, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated, enjoying learning for the pleasure of learning rather than just to reach an external goal. Moreover, recent research suggests that having a growth mindset is associated with both self-esteem and self-compassion as well. Clearly, the beliefs a student has about intelligence have important consequences for his or her own learning.
Might a student’s beliefs about intelligence influence his or her classmates’ learning as well? Our research explored the relationship between students’ mindsets and their attitudes towards helping classmates. Researchers collected data from 2,627 students in year groups 7 – 13 in a diverse network of UK schools, including Wellington College and three underserved state schools. These students took an online survey that was designed to measure their mindsets as well as their attitudes towards helping their peers.
Results reveal that students with a growth mindset are more inclined to help their classmates with academic work and beyond. There is a statistically significant positive correlation between growth mindset and helpfulness. Moreover, growth-minded students are more likely to respond that they care deeply about their peers, would go out of their way to help them, and genuinely enjoy helping others. These results suggest that if students believe intelligence can change with time and effort, they are more likely to find it worthwhile to invest time and effort in helping others improve. As one growth-minded student explained, “Helping another student contributes to improving their intelligence.” A growth mindset therefore not only benefits those students who have it – it may also support other students to succeed.
We are building on this intriguing finding with controlled experimental studies that test interventions that target growth mindset and prosocial behaviors. The interventions consist of courses that teach students about growth mindset, brain plasticity, resilience, and relationships. These courses will be given to students in a diverse network of schools in the UK, including Eton College, Wellington College, and Highbury Grove. Stay tuned for results from this exciting research!