Student Experience Research Network Blog

Numerous studies in recent years, by members of the Student Experience Research Network and others, have found that students who have been taught to believe that intelligence can grow over time (a growth mindset) perform better in school than students who have been taught to believe that intelligence is a fixed trait that is determined at birth (a fixed mindset).

One limitation of the growth mindset research so far has been that many of the studies were performed with relatively small groups of students. The samples have grown substantially in size and diversity in recent years, but they still have never included the rarest, most prized sample in research: a nationally representative sample. Such samples enable researchers to generalize their findings to the population as a whole.

But the field of growth mindset research now has its first such study at a national scale.

The links between mindsets and achievement received important new validation from a first-of-its-kind study by Mindset Scholars Carol Dweck and Dave Paunesku and Stanford education researcher Susana Claro. A research brief summarizing the article, which was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is available here.

By examining test scores and survey responses from all the 10th graders in the country of Chile (over 168,000 students in total), the researchers found that students who endorsed a growth mindset about intelligence consistently outperformed their peers who endorsed a fixed mindset about intelligence.

The researchers then went a step further and examined the relationship between students’ family income, mindsets about intelligence, and test scores.

The result? The positive correlation between growth mindset and achievement held true at all income levels. In other words, whether looking at students from wealthy families or students from poor families, students who endorsed a growth mindset performed better than students who endorsed a fixed mindset.

Significantly, the benefit of a growth mindset was highest for students from low-income families; the performance gap between students who held a growth mindset and those who held a fixed mindset was twice as large among students in the lowest income decile compared to those in the highest income decile.

The findings suggest that students from low-income backgrounds have the most to gain from schools and teachers that adopt policies and practices that convey to students that they can get smarter and excel academically.

Further, the study found that students from lower-income backgrounds were considerably less likely to endorse a growth mindset than students from high-income backgrounds.

Taken together, these findings suggest that education systems that aspire to close equity gaps should pay close attention to the messages about intelligence that their policies and practices send to low-income students in particular, to ensure that these students know that the adults in their schools believe they can grow and that they will provide them with the supports and guidance to excel.

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