Fixed mindset

Scientist Carol Dweck distinguishes between two mind-sets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

The fixed mindset comes with an achievement orientation, meaning only success counts. Additionally, the IQ - as a stable trait - is made responsible for success. Therefore, if you miss your goal, it must mean that you do not have, or lost the responsible trait and are stupid. Research shows that this mindset leads to a fear of failure and avoidance of challenges. In my observation, for gifted people, this mindset comes with an increased risk of the so-called impostor syndrome. This syndrome causes the gifted person to feel like an impostor, fearing that at some point they will be “found out”, in the sense that they are not actually gifted (cf. narcissism).

The growth mindset comes with a learning orientation. Success is attributed to effort. Failing does not imply that one is stupid, but rather, that you have chosen the wrong strategy.  Therefore, failure can lead to growth and improvement. People with a growth mindset seek challenges and opportunities for learning.

We can draw two important conclusions from the above for dealing with giftedness:

  1. Intelligence should not be the center of attention. Rather, draw attention to and reward effort.
  2. Gifted people need to be given tasks that are difficult enough for them to attribute their success to effort. Otherwise they cannot develop a growth mindset. This is especially important in kindergarten and high school.

You can find a very good and entertaining demonstration of this concept here:

Go back