Growth mindset: what’s the big deal?

Posted on 1st February 2017

Posted by Alice Little

What is “Growth Mindset”? Alice Little, Cognitive Neuroscientist and Head of Strategic Operations at CENTURY, explains. 

Growth mindset is a term coined by Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University. She distinguishes between growth mindset and fixed mindset. A growth mindset of intelligence is the belief that intelligence can change over time: it is possible to increase your abilities by applying effective learning strategies. In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is a fixed, innate attribute that cannot be changed: the ability you have at the outset is as good as it will get.

We see different mindsets at work everyday, both in and out of the classroom. Typical fixed mindset statements look like this:

“I can’t do maths”

“I’m just not creative”

“Oh, I’ve never been sporty”

In all these statements there is a fixed mindset declaring that there is no control over ability.

It’s easiest to see growth mindset in action around games. If you lose a level during a videogame, you typically start it again trying to do better this time:

“Oh, I nearly had it that time! This time I’ll get it”

When you start a game, you believe that you are capable of winning, even if you don’t win straight away. In other words, you have a growth mindset towards the game.

Why does it matter?

Let’s pretend we have a class of two: Alex and Sam. They are given a problem to solve and they both get it wrong. What happens next?

Well, Alex has a fixed mindset so he believes that his ability to solve this problem is already set. There is no point in trying to solve the problem again, no point in learning more about it, trying to understand other ways to solve it. He is either intelligent enough to solve it the first time around or he isn’t. He didn’t, so there is nothing more he can do.

Sam has a growth mindset which means she believes that with effectively applied effort she can solve the problem. She will keep on trying: trying new strategies, trying to understand more; trying to solve it. Sam believes that she will be able to solve the problem eventually.

So, why does mindset matter? Because it alters what we do when we encounter set back. Ultimately, mindset matters because it has a strong relationship with outcome. Students who keep trying are more likely to achieve better outcomes.

What’s the evidence?

Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck (2007)
Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck (2007)

Carol Dweck has done comprehensive research into the relationship between mindset and learning outcomes. In 2013, she conducted a review showing that mindset interventions result in improved learning outcomes for children who have a fixed mindset (Yeager, Paunesku, Walton & Dweck (2013)). Interventions which change the type of praise a student receives have been shown to encourage a growth mindset. Additionally, interventions which teach children how the brain learns or which focus on the try-fail-try-again routine of famously successful figures are also effective.

How does CENTURY incorporate this research?

CENTURY encourages a growth mindset in a couple of different ways.

Students get sent personalised cognitive messages which encourage resilience and growth mindset. These messages offer learners effective learning strategies based on their current performance and effort levels. They also inform the students about how the brain learns to more implicitly encourage a growth mindset. All CENTURY messages around results are also grounded in growth mindset research to encourage a mindset which can improve learning outcomes.

Additionally, CENTURY has a course which teaches students how the brain learns. Dweck’s research, among others, shows that understanding of the basic functions of memory and learning can help learners see that abilities are not innate. This course was developed in conjunction with HRH Duke of York, as part of iDEA. It is aimed at learners aged 11–14, but there is something there for everyone. Why don’t you give it a go today and see what you can learn?


Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K. & Dweck, C., 2007, ‘Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention’, Child Development 78(1): 246–263

Yeager, D., Paunesku, D., Walton, G. & Dweck, C., 2013, ‘How Can We Instill Productive Mindsets at Scale? A Review of the Evidence and an Initial R&D Agenda’, White Paper for the White House meeting, Excellence in Education: The Importance of Academic Mindsets.