Growth mindset found to temper impact of poverty on student achievement

Larkmead School. Credit: CC-BY-SA-2.5,2.0,1.0

(—A trio of researchers from Stanford University has found that high school children living in poverty who have a growth mindset tend to do better in school than those with a fixed mindset. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Susana Claro, David Paunesku and Carol Dweck describe a study they carried out with high school sophomores in Chile, what they learned, and what their findings may indicate regarding children, education and poverty.

The concept of intelligence is difficult to pin down, much less measure. So, too, is answering the question of whether it is possible for a person to become more intelligent by trying—most scientists in the field believe that it is mostly fixed at birth. But because it cannot be proven, people tend to have their own opinions—those who believe that a person can become more intelligent through are referred to in psychological terms as having a growth mindset. Conversely, those who believe that intelligence is fixed at birth are referred to has having a fixed mindset.

In order to gain some insight into whether such beliefs can have an impact on academic performance, the researchers worked with the public school system in Chile in 2012—they tested 75 percent of the entire class of 10th grade and then monitored their . In addition to demographic questions, students were also asked questions about whether they believed intelligence was fixed at birth or whether it could be improved through hard work, such as by studying schoolwork.

In studying the data, the researchers found that as expected students living in tended to have much less academic success. They also found that students living in poverty were much more likely to have a fixed mindset. But they also found that those students living in poverty who had a growth mindset tended to do much better academically than those living in poverty who had a fixed mindset—so much better that their scores were nearly equal to students who were not living in poverty but who had a fixed mindset. These results, the researchers suggest, indicate that targeted interventions may help low-achieving students living in poverty perform at a higher level; however, the researchers are quick to point out that they are not advocating substituting mindset manipulation for poverty reduction programs.

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More information: Susana Claro et al. Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1608207113

Two largely separate bodies of empirical research have shown that academic achievement is influenced by structural factors, such as socioeconomic background, and psychological factors, such as students' beliefs about their abilities. In this research, we use a nationwide sample of high school students from Chile to investigate how these factors interact on a systemic level. Confirming prior research, we find that family income is a strong predictor of achievement. Extending prior research, we find that a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence is not fixed and can be developed) is a comparably strong predictor of achievement and that it exhibits a positive relationship with achievement across all of the socioeconomic strata in the country. Furthermore, we find that students from lower-income families were less likely to hold a growth mindset than their wealthier peers, but those who did hold a growth mindset were appreciably buffered against the deleterious effects of poverty on achievement: students in the lowest 10th percentile of family income who exhibited a growth mindset showed academic performance as high as that of fixed mindset students from the 80th income percentile. These results suggest that students' mindsets may temper or exacerbate the effects of economic disadvantage on a systemic level.

© 2016

Citation: Growth mindset found to temper impact of poverty on student achievement (2016, July 19) retrieved 21 July 2019 from
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Jul 19, 2016
This is stupid. Not that the work was done poorly, but it misses the elephant in the room. There are people who read for pleasure, and those who need a figurative gun to their head to force them to read. Whether g is fixed at birth or can be changed, reading ability can clearly be improved by practice. Those who get "hooked" on reading do better in coursework, and of course additional reading, of whatever type, improves the benefit and enjoyment and creates a virtuous circle. (Or virtuous cycle. Economist speak, look it up.)

The net result is a split in the population, and eventually segregation by reading ability. High schools and colleges used to be a filter which selected only readers. (Note that blindness is not a barrier. In fact most blind people I have met are avid readers. It remains to be seen what the impact of "books-on-tape" today more likely CD or electronic file, will have. So far, most of the BoT listeners are commuters and the elderly with failing eyesight.)

Jul 20, 2016
Only the maximum possible intellectual achievement is fixed at birth.

If we take the opposite view and consider intellectual performance after the peak during school years we find a very wide divergence between those who continue to stimulate their minds intellectually and those who leave all that behind and live simple existences.

Thus at, say, 50 years of age, especially before the computer era, people, even if they did well in school, may have very limited intellectual abilities. So there is no question that we use *some percentage of our capacity* and that this can become fixed over time.

Likewise will utilise some percentage of their actual capacity corresponding to their own beliefs.

By analogy, the maximum speed a person can run is fixed at birth: genetics determine the maximum size a person will grow given ideal conditions.However The actual speed a person can run may be far lower than a person who only has a fraction of their genetically determined maximum ability.

Jul 30, 2016
Note that evidence of the fixed maximum comes from animal studies. Generally, various species have a species typical maximum intelligence ~ for instance chimps, dolphins and corvids can't do the intellectual tasks that humans are capable of even though they are relatively intelligent.

But within that intelligence range a chimp can be trained to achieve close to their maximum mastering, for instance, simple human language (sign language, lexigrams).

Just why anyone would question this is quite mysterious...variation in human intelligence is nowhere near the difference between chimp and human, disease and birth defects aside.

The degree of intellectual ability of people as they age varies much more with many people in the 50s unable to accomplish intellectual tasks they achieve in high school.

Jul 30, 2016
G is a good measure of intellectual capacity, but not perfect. Genius is a mix of factors, G and hard work are the two main ones. Note that knowledge of the subject field is not required. In fact, it is common for geniuses to create the (new) foundations of a field. Cosmology did not begin with Einstein, but once he started on General Relativity, everything before was classed as myths and fables. Having said that, the real mark of genius is not knowing that you are so smart, "I have a very small mind and must live with it." (E. W. Dijkstra) It is when you realize that other people really are that dumb.

Back on topic, in the long term, how much a person knows is a function of how much they learn on average, each day. Reading trains the eyes to take in more visual information, even when not reading. I could argue the same for classical music and the ears, but for reading the effect is obvious.

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