Intelligence and personality can be developed

A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. 

A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.

The “growth mindset” creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

Maria Popova writing in BrainPickings

Three Types of Learners

College students will take - usually without even realizing it – one of three basic approaches to their studies that will determine much of what they get out of school.

“Surface learners” as the psychologists called them, looked for facts and words they could memorize, attempting to anticipate any questions someone might ask them. In subsequent studies, we have learned that surface learners usually focus only on passing the exam nor on every using anything they read.

Meanwhile, other students expressed much different purposes. They wanted to understand the meaning behind the text and to think about its implications and applications, to search for arguments, and to distinguish between supporting evidence and conclusions. These are “deep learners.”

There is a third style of learning that students will take. “Strategic” learners primarily intend simply to make good grades, often for the sake of graduate or professional school.  These people will usually shine in the classroom and make their parents proud of their high marks. In many ways, they look like deep learners but their fundamental concerns is different. They focus almost exclusively on how to find out what the professor wants and how to ace the exam. If they learn something along the way that changes the way they think, act, or feel, that’s largely an accident.

They rarely go off on an intellectual journey through those unexplored woods of life, riding their curiosity into a wonderland of intellectual adventure and imagination. They approach college with a checklist rather than with any sense of awe and fascination.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Students Do

Measuring Intelligence

People have been measuring what they believe is intelligence without having a really firm understanding of what it is that they are measuring. Many theorists in psychology believe that conventional tests of intelligence measures only a relatively narrow aspect of intelligence. The result is that what we may take as a difference between two people in their levels of intelligence may reflect only a difference in a fairly small portions of their levels of intelligence.

Robert Sternberg, Thinking Styles

I feel smart when...

Certain kinds of verbal praise can be detrimental to learning. Young children who constantly hear “person” praise (“you’re so smart to do this well”) as opposed to “task” praise (“you did that well”) are more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than expandable with hard work. When they subsequently face setbacks after receiving person praise, their views of intelligence can cause them to develop a sense of helplessness (“I’m not as smart as I once thought I was”).

When researchers asked these children to describe what made them feel smart, they talked about tasks they found easy, that required little effort, and they could do before anyone else without making mistakes. In contrast, their peers who they thought they got smarter by trying harder and learning new things said they felt intelligent when they didn’t understand something, tried really hard, and then go it, or figured out something new.

In other words, the children with the fixed view of intelligence and a sense of helplessness felt smart only when they avoided those activities most likely to help them learn – struggling, grappling, and making mistakes.

These children are likely to have “performance goals”. They want to achieve perfection or get the “right” answer to impress other people because they want to appear to be one of the “smart people”. They are afraid of making mistakes. They will often carefully calculate how much they need to achieve to win the proper praise and do no more than that, for fear that they might fail in the eyes of others. Some of these people do excel by some standards, but they still achieve primarily for the sake of that external recognition and fall short of where they might go.

In contrast, students who believe that they can become more intelligent by learning (a “mastery orientation’) often work essentially to increase their own competence (adopting “learning goals”), not to win rewards. They are more likely to take risks in learning, to try harder tasks, and consequently learn more than children who are performance-oriented.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do

Why praising people for their intelligence can hurt them

Dr. Carol Dweck gave every child a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. Afterward the  researcher informed all the children of their scores, adding a single six-word sentence of praise. Half the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”) and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).

The kids were tested a second time but this time they were offered a choice between the harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who’d been praised for their effort choice the harder test. A majority of the kids who’d been praised for the intelligence, on the other hand, chose the easy test. Why? “When we praise children for their intelligence.” Dweck wrote, “we tell them that that's the name of the game: look smart, don't risk making mistakes.”

The third level of tests was uniformly harder; none of the kids did well. However, the two groups of kids--the praised-for-effort group and the praised-for-intelligence group--responding very differently to the situation. “(The effort group) dug in and grew very involved with the test, trying solutions, testing strategies,” Dweck said. “They later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof they weren’t smart.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code


You can rewire your brain

Many people believe that their intellectual ability is hardwired from birth, and that failure to meet a learning challenge is an indictment of their native ability. But every time you learn something new, you change the brain-the residue of your experiences is stored. It's true that we start life with the gift of our genes, but it's also true that we become capable through the learning and development of mental models that enable us to reason, solve, and create.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Here's how you can spot who is going to be successful

(Some researchers ran) a workshop for low-performing seven graders at a New York City junior high school, teaching them about the brain and about effective study techniques. Half the group also received a presentation on memory, but the other half were given an explanation of how the brain changes as a result of effortful learning: that when you try hard and learn something new, the brain forms new connections, and these new connections, over time, make you smarter. This group was told that intellectual development is not the natural unfolding of intelligence but results from the new connections that are formed through effort and learning.

After the workshop, both groups of kids filtered back into their classwork. Their teachers were unaware that some had been taught that effortful learning changes the brain, but as the school year unfolded, those students adopted what (the researchers) call a "growth mindset," a belief that their intelligence was largely within their own control, and they went on to become much more aggressive learners and higher achievers than students from the first group, who continued to hold the conventional view, what (the researchers) called a "fixed mindset" that they're intellectual ability was set at birth by the natural talents they were born with.

(The) research had been triggered by curiosity over why some people become helpless when they encounter challenges and fail at them, whereas others respond to failure by trying new strategies and redoubling their effort. (They) found that a fundamental difference between the two responses lies in how a person attributes failure: those who attribute to their own inability-"I'm not intelligent"-become helpless. Those who interpret failure as a result of insufficient effort or an ineffective strategy dig deeper and try different approaches.

Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III,, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning