Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Perspectives on Intelligence

Psychologist Carol Dweck has been studying intelligence for a long time. In an article in the current issue of Scientific American Mind (see complete reference at end of post) she discusses what she has discovered about how children's ideas of intelligence influence their performance.

One key discovery is that children's beliefs about intelligence inform their motivation about learning. Children who believe that intelligence is an innate, unchangeable trait often become frustrated and give up when they come up against something such as a math problem that they can't solve. In contrast, children who believe that intelligence is a quality that can develop as they learn approach a difficult math problem as a challenge, an opportunity to look for and try out new potential solutions. Dweck calls these two groups helpless and mastery-oriented learners, respectively.

Helpless learners, who think that intelligence is a fixed trait, believe that they have only a set amount of intelligence. Dweck calls this a fixed mind-set. When helpless learners encounter a problem they can't solve, they become frustrated and give up because they think they just aren't smart enough. Such children see mistakes as the result of a lack of ability, and to them lack of ability is something they can't change. Mistakes undermine their self-confidence, and they therefore avoid challenges, because challenges make mistakes more likely. These children fear that working hard will make them look dumb. Students with a fixed mind-set are more interested in getting good grades than in learning.

Mastery-oriented learners, on the other hand, believe that intelligence is a quality that can be developed through education and hard work. These children think that mistakes result from a lack of effort, not a lack of ability, so their mistakes motivate them to work harder. They see challenges as exciting, as opportunities to learn. Dweck calls this a growth mind-set. Students with this mind-set value learning over grades; in addition, their belief about the effectiveness of effort motivates them to try harder when they receive a poor grade.

Dweck's research has shown that programs designed to teach students they can increase their intelligence through education and effort work for students at all levels, from elementary school through college. To help students develop a growth mind-set rather than a fixed mind-set theory of intelligence, Dweck and colleagues have developed an interactive computer program called Brainology, which she says should be availably in mid-2008. The program teaches students about what the brain does and how they can make it work better.

Fostering a growth mind-set about intelligence will help people function better not only at school, but also at work and in their social relationships, Dweck says. In the work world, people whose growth mind-set has taught them that feedback leads to improvement will be more receptive to constructive criticism and advice than people with a fixed mind-set. In personal relationships, people with a growth mind-set will probably be more willing to acknowledge problems and try to work through them than will fixed mind-set people.

Here are some of the implications of Dwecks's work for raising smart kids:
  • Don't praise your children's intelligence. Instead, compliment them on their effort, determination, and perseverance.
  • Discuss mistakes not as failures, but as challenges or opportunities to learn something new.
  • If children become discouraged or frustrated, encourage them to look for different ways to approach a problem.
  • Teach children about famous people (Dweck suggests Marie Curie and Thomas Edison) who accomplished great things through dedication and great effort.
The point is to help children develop a growth perspective rather than a fixed perspective on intelligence.


Dweck, Carol S. "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids." Scientific American Mind December 2007/January 2008: 36-43.

© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown

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