A human brain being measured  with a measuring tape. Human Intelligence

Human Intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources.

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Carol S. Dweck                    Carol S. Dweck

(October 17, 1946- )
American Psychologist                    


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  • B.A., Barnard College , Columbia University (1967)
  • Ph.D., in Psychology, Yale University (1972)


  • Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University (2004-present)
  • Professor, Department of Psychology, Columbia University (1989-2004)
  • Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois (1985-1989)
  • Professor, Laboratory of Human Development, Harvard University (1981-1985)
  • Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois (1972-1977)
  • National Science Foundation Fellow, Yale University (1967-1971)

Definition of Intelligence

Dr. Dweck does not attempt to define intelligence.   Her research focuses on how people's implicit theories about intelligence can impact their behavior.

Major Contributions

  • Identified two implicit theories of intelligence:   Students who have an "entity" theory view their intelligence as an unchangeable internal characteristic. Students with an "incremental" theory believe that their intelligence is malleable and can be increased through effort
  • Demonstrated empirically that students who hold an entity theory of intelligence are less likely to attempt challenging tasks and are at risk for academic underachievement
  • Provided evidence that praising students for their intelligence has the potential to limit their intellectual growth
  • Developed intervention protocols to teach incremental theory of intelligence so that students are able to gain and benefit from a growth mindset.

Interview with Dr. Dweck (with video clips)

Click here to see the interview transcripts and video clips. 

Ideas & Interests

Carol Dweck's early research on human motivation focused on helpless and mastery-oriented response patterns in schoolchildren (Deiner & Dweck, 1978, 1980; Dweck, 1975; Dweck & Reppucci, 1973).   Some students, she noted, persist in the face of failure while others quit as soon as the going gets rough.   In the 1980s she began investigating the self-theories that lie behind these behaviors, discovering along the way that students' implicit beliefs about the nature of intelligence have a significant impact on the way they approach challenging intellectual tasks:   Students who view their intelligence as an unchangeable internal characteristic tend to shy away from academic challenges, whereas students who believe that their intelligence can be increased through effort and persistence seek them out (Dweck, 1999b; Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995; Dweck & Leggett, 1988).

Students who hold an "entity" theory of intelligence agree with statements such as "Your intelligence is something about you that you can't change very much."   Since they believe their intelligence is fixed, these students place high value on success.   They worry that failure-or even having to work very hard at something-will be perceived as evidence of their low intelligence. Therefore, they make academic choices that maximize the possibility that they will perform well. For example, a student may opt to take a lower-level course because it will be easier to earn an A.   In contrast, students who have an "incremental" theory of intelligence are not threatened by failure.   Because they believe that their intelligence can be increased through effort and persistence, these students set mastery goals and seek academic challenges that they believe will help them to grow intellectually (Dweck, 1999b).

Dr. Dweck's research on the impact of praise suggests that many teachers and parents may be unwittingly leading students to accept an entity view of intelligence.   By praising students for their intelligence, rather than effort, many adults are sending the message that success and failure depend on something beyond the students' control.   Comments such as "You got a great score on your math test, Jimmy! You are such a smart boy!" are interpreted by students as "If success means that I am smart, then failure must mean that I am dumb."   When these students perform well they have high self-esteem, but this crashes as soon as they hit an academic stumbling block. Students who are praised for their effort are much more likely to view intelligence as being malleable, and their self-esteem remains stable regardless of how hard they may have to work to succeed at a task. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that these students are more likely to be willing to push through setbacks and reach their full academic potential (Dweck, 1999a; 1999b).  

Intervention: Dweck and her colleagues later developed an intervention protocol to teach an incremental/malleable theory of intelligence through eight 25-min sessions. The key message during the intervention was that learning changes the brain by forming new connections, and that students are in charge of this process. Findings show that the intervention had a positive impact on students' achievement motivation. It also halted the decline in mathematics achievement as compared to control group (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007). In another study, two single 45-min online sessions using similar methods raised achievement in a large and diverse group of underperforming students over an academic semester (Paunesku et al., 2015).
Speaking of the implications on how adults (or teachers) should interact with their children (or students), Dweck think that it is especially important to foster a growth mindset in the face of difficulties and even failure. As Haimovitz and Dweck (2016) have found, parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable. Not only adults or children, but environmental as a whole can have important impacts. For example, incremental-oriented environments can protect women against gender stereotype, helping them maintain a high sense of belongings in math and the intention to pursue math in the future (Good, Rattan, & Dweck, 2012).


Dweck, C. S. (2002).   Beliefs that make smart people dumb.   In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.).   Why smart people can be so stupid.   New Haven : Yale University Press.

Dweck, C.S. (2002). Messages that motivate: How praise molds students' beliefs, motivation, and performance (in surprising ways). In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement. New York : Academic Press.

Dweck, C. S. (1999a). Caution-praise can be dangerous.   American Educator, 23(1), 4-9.

Dweck, C. S. (1999b).   Self-theories:   Their role in motivation, personality and development.   Philadelphia :   The Psychology Press

Dweck, C. S., & Bempechat, J. (1983).   Children's theories of intelligence.   In S. Paris , G. Olsen, & H. Stevenson (Eds.), Learning and motivation in the classroom (pp. 239-256).   Hillsdale , NJ :   Erlbaum.

Mueller, C.M., & Dweck, C.S. (1998).   Intelligence praise can undermine motivation and performance.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75 , 33-52.


Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.00995.x
Good, C., Rattan, A., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Why do women opt out? Sense of belonging and women’s representation in mathematics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 700–717. doi:10.1037/a0026659
Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets. Psychological Science, 27, 859–869. doi:10.1177/0956797616639727
Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-Set Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement. Psychological Science, 26, 784–793. doi:10.1177/0956797615571017

Deiner, C. I., & Dweck, C.S. (1978).   An analysis of learned helplessness:   Continuous changes in performance, strategy and achievement cognitions following failure.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 451-462.

Deiner, C. I, & Dweck, C.S. (1980).   An analysis of learned helplessness:   (II) The processing of success.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 940-952.

Dweck, C. S. (1975).   The role of expectations and attributions in the alleviation of learned helplessness.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 674-685.

Dweck, C. S. (1999a). Caution-praise can be dangerous.   American Educator, 23(1), 4-9.

Dweck, C. S. (1999b).   Self-theories:   Their role in motivation, personality and development.   Philadelphia :   The Psychology Press.

Dweck, C.S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995).   Implicit theories and their role in judgments and reactions:   A world from two perspectives.   Psychological Inquiry, 6, 267-285.

Dweck, C. S., & Reppucci, N. D. (1973).   Learned helplessness and reinforcement responsibility in children.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 25 , 109-116.  

Image courtesy of Carol S. Dweck.

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