Exclusive: Growth mindset is ‘bullshit’, says leading geneticist

But the academic behind the theory says growth-mindset techniques work better than large-scale interventions

Jon Severs & Caroline Henshaw

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A leading geneticist has challenged the hugely popular growth mindset theory, saying the whole idea is “bullshit”.

The growth mindset theory, developed by Stanford psychologist Professor Carol Dweck, argues an individual’s learning is shaped by whether they think intelligence is fixed or can be changed.

Those with a growth mindset believe they can improve their abilities through effort and effective learning techniques. Those with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are largely innate and so are less likely to work to improve their academic performance. 

Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at King’s College London, dismissed the theory as “bullshit” and “gimmicks” in an interview with Tes.

“To think there is some simple cheap little thing that is going to make everybody fine, it is crazy,” he said in exclusive remarks published today.

“Good interventions are the most expensive and intensive – if it were easy, teachers would have figured it out for themselves.”

But Professor Dweck said she respectfully disagreed with his argument that intensive interventions work best, that growth mindset techniques are intuitive and that her theory is a “gimmick”.

She cited large-scale studies that showed “massive and expensive” education interventions like overhauling the curriculum had little effect on outcomes. By contrast, an hour of growth mindset-based online interventions did improve attainment – particularly among lower-achieving students.

“This is far from a gimmick,” she said, explaining that the studies adhered to rigorous research standards and the results were replicated in the US, Peru and Norway.

Professor Dweck also questioned Professor Plomin’s idea that growth-mindset techniques are simple to implement effectively in the classroom, saying this is based on a misunderstanding of the theory.

She pointed to a three-year project being run by her colleagues in Seattle’s public education system to develop a detailed, growth mindset-based curriculum for teachers.

This includes techniques like letting pupils revise their work to get credit, so they can see themselves improve, and ways of working with students to develop strategies to overcome their problems.

She said the new curriculum will be released to the public, free of charge, in the next year or two.

“It’s not easy for teachers to implement [the growth mindset] intuitively in the classroom,” Professor Dweck said. “We’ve come to see how subtle and difficult it is to implement.”

“We feel that the full impact of real growth mindset, those benefits will not be reaped until they are faithfully embedded in actual classrooms.”


To read the full interview with Professor Plomin, see today's edition of Tes magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. 


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Jon Severs & Caroline Henshaw

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