The Brain is a Muscle

According to Carol Dweck,

people’s self-theories about intelligence have a profound influence on their motivation to learn. Students who hold a “fixed” [static] theory are mainly concerned with how smart they are—they prefer tasks they can already do well and avoid ones on which they may make mistakes and not look smart. In contrast, she said, [those] who believe in an “expandable” or “growth” [dynamic] theory of intelligence want to challenge themselves to increase their abilities, even if they fail at first. (Stanford Magazine)


changing a key belief—a student’s self-theory about intelligence and motivation—with a relatively simple intervention [e.g. learning study skills] can make a big difference.

This model could allow us to transcend the binary of the sophistic and philosophical methods of teaching learning:

  1. sophistical teaching: teaches strategy/ethics—institutional know-how, e.g. study skills like shortcuts (a relativistic rhetoric according to which truth is strictly contextual, a skill)—to produce efficient knowledge-workers
  2. philosophical teaching (à la Socrates): teaches wisdom/ethos or “character”—knowledge, e.g. fidelity to a way of thinking (truth to oneself or to Truth itself, a good)—to produce good citizens

So a sophistical intervention in a student’s learning process, e.g. learning a skill, might change a key belief or “self-theory” and thereby enable a student’s philosophical growth.

And dynamic students can learn from their mistakes (something fostered in, say, in an erratological approach to learning writing):

Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved.

(The theory also has implications for parenting, as Dweck suggests:

One very common thing is that often very brilliant children stop working because they’re praised so often that it’s what they want to live as—brilliant—not as someone who ever makes mistakes. . . . It really stunts their motivation. Parents and teachers say they now understand how to prevent that—how to work with low-achieving students to motivate them and high-achieving students to maximize their efforts.

So we should “praise children’s efforts, not their intelligence. . . .”)

See “If You’re Open To Growth, You Tend To Grow” in the New York Times for some links; Design Tumble Log for a visual:

6tU5GheaKqatj85wsd3GM9HAo1_400.png 400×533 pixels


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