It’s taken me a while to realise this, but “Growth Mindset” is essentially the repackaging of that perennial teacher favourite: “Must Try Harder”.
Suppose that the difference in “people who talk up innate ability” and “people who talk up hard work” maps onto a bigger distinction. Some people really want to succeed at a task; other people just care about about clocking in, going through the motions, and saying “I did what I could”.
Put the first group in front of an authoritative-looking scientist, tell them to solve a problem, and make sure they can’t. They’re going to view this as a major humiliation – they were supposed to get a result, and couldn’t. They’ll get very anxious, and of course anxiety impedes performance.
Put the second group in front of an authoritative-looking scientist, and they’ll notice that if they write some stuff that looks vaguely relevant for a few minutes until the scientist calls time, then whatever, they can say they tried and no one can bother them about it. They do exactly this, then demand an ‘A’ for effort. At no point do they experience any anxiety, so their performance isn’t impeded.
Put both groups on their own in private, and neither feels any humiliation, and they both do about equally well.
Now put them in real life. The success-oriented group will investigate how to study most effectively; the busywork-oriented group will try to figure out how many hours of studying they have to put in before other people won’t blame them if they fail, then put in exactly that amount. You’ll find the success-oriented group doing a bit better in school, even though they fail miserably in Dweck-style experiments.
[ . . . ]
So basically, you take the most vulnerable people, set them tasks you know they’ll fail at, then lecture them about how they only failed because of insufficient effort.
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever, saying “YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU’RE JUST NOT TRYING NOT TO BE STAMPED ON HARD ENOUGH”.
— Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex, 8/4/15 [emphasis added]
Recent research shows that children do better in classes where teachers ensure that the region around their cubital ginglymus has a organic epidermal integument attached. Watch this space for more on the Organic Epidermal Integument Elbow Set, next week.
h/t The Learning Spy, Why The ‘False Growth Mindset’ Reveals So Much