Mangels Working with Dweck
Most of us are familiar with Dweck’s work on self-theories of intelligence – “fixed mindsets” and “growth mindsets.” A fixed mindset is a self-belief that your intelligence is “fixed” and therefore effort spent in learning something is essentially time wasted, and getting something like a question wrong presents a threat to your self-concept. A growth mindset is a self-belief that intelligence is something that is malleable, and that your level intelligence can grow through effort and attention. (See Dweck’s book “Mind-Set: The New Psychology of Success” for more information on her theory and these articles about Carol Dweck by Gloria Park and by Sherri Fisher.)
The title of the study says it all: “Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model.” Here is a simple outline of the study. First, participants completed a questionnaire that showed if they had a fixed-mindset or a growth-mindset. Second, while hooked up to the brain imaging technology, they were given a “test” of common-knowledge questions. (e.g. What’s the capital of Australia?) Third, after each incorrect answer, the correct answer was then given. Fourth, after the “test” was over, they are asked to retake the test. Participants did not know beforehand that they would have the opportunity to retake the test. The third and fourth parts of the study get to the heart of growth/fixed mindsets and memory. Had they known beforehand that the test was going to be retaken, even those with a fixed-mindset would have paid closer attention to the correct answers, thus skewing the results of the study. Since they didn’t know, the fixed and growth mindset participantss simply behaved as they normally would.
Fascinating results came from this study that we can put to use! One interesting finding was that growth-mindset participants had more activity in their brains as it relates to processing the meanings of the words and relationships between them. This means that one reason growth-mindset people are better learners is that they pay more attention to corrective information and think about it more than fixed-mindset people. “To the extent that [fixed-mindset participants] may have viewed negative feedback as a threat to self-perceptions about ability, rather than as a challenge to improve, they may have engaged less effort in “deep,” semantic processing of the learning-relevant feedback, ultimately compromising their ability to correct as many errors on the subsequent retest” (Mangels, et. al., 2006).
Another interesting finding was that according to the brain imaging when the correct answers to the questions were given, growth-mindset participants had their attention focused externally to “regulate sensory and response selection.” This means that they were more interested in finding out what the correct answer was. Fixed-mindset participants had more activity in a part of their limbic system that deals more with regulating their internal emotional response. Interesting how one group was more externally attentive on the correct answer, and the other was more attentive on their emotional response to getting the question wrong!
These results give us a “view from the inside,” a view into how we are thinking and how we are using our emotions whether we have a fixed mindset or growth mindset. EEG’s, PET scans, and other brain imaging technologies are the fountainhead of serious brain/mind investigation. New and useful information is being discovered rapidly.
Given these results, I challenge you, the reader, to come up with exercises and activities that you can do either by yourself, with a friend, or in the classroom if you are a teacher. Let’s have a discussion of ways to change our brains from fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.
Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C. D., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN).
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Here are some recent articles by Dr. Mangels and more information:
- Karantzoulis, S., Rich, J. B., & Mangels, J. A. (2006). Subject-Performed Tasks improve associative learning in Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 12(4), 493-501
- Summerfield, C. & Mangels, J. A. (2006). EEG correlates of anticipatory attention predict successful episodic encoding. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(7), 1120-32.
- Soldan, A., Mangels, J. A., & Cooper, L. A. (2006). Evaluating models of object-decision priming: Evidence from ERP repetition effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 32(2), 230-248.
- Mangels, J. A., & Heinberg, A. (2006). Improved episodic integration through enactment: Implications for aging. Journal of General Psychology, 133(1), 37-65.
Figure 2. Cingulate cortex response following submission of own decision for age and IQ controls courtesy of Image Editor