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Interview with Carol Dweck
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(1) Click here to watch Dr. Dweck discuss how she became interested in human intelligence:
I was always interested in motivation. I started by studying motivation in animals, and then I thought I really want to devote my career to understanding how motivation affects intellectual performance in children.
I'm finding in my work that people's beliefs about their own intelligence really affect whether they can use their skills and grow their skills. This is true for many reasons. First of all, people who believe in malleable intelligence take on challenges, and persist at them in ways that foster intellectual growth. People who believe in fixed intelligence kind of limit what they are willing to try, and if it doesn't go well, they back off. You can see how over the long run this could limit their intellectual growth.
I noticed from my years of work that students who were vulnerable were mired in the issue of intelligence, were obsessed with their intelligence: "Is this going to make me look smart? Did that make me look smart?" And I thought, you know, praise, praising students' intelligence is what people think is the greatest. We'll raise their self- esteem, we'll enhance their intellectual performance. But maybe it could trap them in this system of vulnerability, and that's how we got started on the praise work.
In our work on praise, we had children working on an intelligence-an IQ-nonverbal IQ task, the Raven's Progressive Matrices. Some children, after a job well done, were praised for their intelligence, others for their effort, and then there was a control group. When kids were praised for their intelligence they didn't want a challenge afterwards. And when they hit difficult problems, their enjoyment crashed, they thought they weren't smart anymore, and their performance on the IQ test plummeted. All from praising their intelligence! They were thrilled with the praise, but then it sort of limited the extent to which they could display and practice their intellectual skills. The ones who were praised for effort continued to flourish.
I worry about the label "gifted." I'm not against gifted programs, but I wonder about the label gifted because it implies that those who have the gift have this fixed thing inside of them that makes them special. And I worry that they can become fixated on the label, on deserving the label. "I'm not making mistakes." That could imply they don't deserve the label, to the point where, instead of focusing on developing their potential and fostering their own intellectual growth, they'll limit themselves.
I think our society tends to believe that geniuses are born, not made. And I wouldn't dispute that there might be a strong innate component, but it's just clear from the histories of so many geniuses that motivation is a key component. And when you sift through the literature on creative genius, the researchers agree that motivation is perhaps the number one component in the realization of genius. Many of our most illustrious geniuses in every field were people who were considered ordinary as children, and then just caught fire around their topic and achieved amazing things that we know about today-from Darwin, to Coleridge, to Cézanne. All of these people were not necessarily extraordinary children.
I think that I really went my own way with these theories of intelligence. Not taking a stand on what intelligence is, but really studying how students think about their intelligence. It wasn't something that other people were thinking about, and it wasn't something that caught on immediately, but I knew it was important.
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Last Modified: 20 January 2017