Mindset and learning go hand in hand. It’s important to be confident in one’s own abilities to learn new skills and meet goals. Overconfidence, however, can also hinder learning according to Washington State University researcher Joyce Ehrlinger.
Ehrlinger and colleagues performed three studies. First, participants had their mindsets assesses to see who fell into the ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ frame of mind. The fixed mindset tends to see intelligence as fixed, native and unchanging, whereas the growth mindset is more flexible. The participants’ self-reported confidence in their abilities was also surveyed. Participants had to rate their agreement with statements such as “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t really do much to change it” and “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are” on a 6-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”
Researchers assessed the students’ performance in a multiple-choice test. Those who were identified as having a fixed mindset tended to be more confident about their performance on the test. Later, in another test, students with fixed mindsets devoted less attention to difficult problems.
“By focusing on aspects of the task that were easy and spending as little time as possible on more difficult parts of the task,” Dr. Ehrlinger said, “fixed theorists felt as if they had performed very well relative to their peers. In contrast, growth theorists weren’t threatened by challenging parts of the task and didn’t feel the need to bask in the glow of the parts that were easy. This more balanced way of completing the task left growth theorists with a better understanding of how well they did.”
In the third part of the experiment, fixed mind theorists were purposely confronted with both difficult and easy parts of an intellectual task. This generally shook their confidence, inspiring more accurate impressions of their performance, the researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“We know that students’ beliefs about intelligence are very consequential in the classroom and that interventions that teach students a growth mindset lead to improvements in their grades,” said Ehrlinger. “We also know that being overconfident keeps people from learning. You have to understand and acknowledge what you don’t yet know in order to truly learn. This research suggests that part of why growth mindsets improve learning might be because they lead people to better understand what they do and what they do not know.”