This research report aims to answer the research question of ‘do children’s mindsets change across age?’. The hypothesis that this research report is built on is that a fixed mindset is more common amongst adolescents and a growth mindset is more common for younger children, evidently being that as children age, their mindset changes from growth to fixed. To determine whether or not this hypothesis can be proven correct, one hundred and eighty-seven children and adolescents participated in a study using a mindset vignette adapted from Yeager et al. (2016) and a mindset scale adapted from Dweck (2006). The mindset scale suggested growth mindsets with some fixed ideas decreased with age, while fixed mindsets with some growth ideas increased with age. The mindset vignette indicated that the older participants were more likely to choose the easy task, representing a fixed mindset, whereas younger participants more likely to choose the hard task, representing a growth mindset. Therefore, it was determined that children’s mindsets change across age, they start with a growth mindset but consequently develop a fixed mindset as they mature.
Do Children’s Mindsets Change from Growth to Fixed as They Mature? This research report will address the question of ‘do children’s mindsets change from growth to fixed as they mature?’. The term ‘mindset’ falls under three distinctive categories; cognitive psychology, social psychology and positive psychology. Definitions of the term ‘mindset’ in the cognitive psychology stream deliberate the concept as both tasks and cognitive processes. (French, 2016) Academics in the field of cognitive psychology, Alison Jing Xu and Robert S Wyer, define mindset as being “evidenced by the effect of performing a cognitive or motor activity on the likelihood of performing a similar behaviour in a subsequent unrelated situation […] it reflects the activation and use of a cognitive procedure” (2012). The term mindset in social psychology is described as a certain focus or filter used throughout the entirety of an individual or organisations cognition. (French, 2016) In relation to social psychology, Dr Stephen Rhinesmith states that mindsets are “a predisposition to see the world in a particular way […] a filter through which we look at the world […] a predisposition to perceive and reason in certain ways […] a means of simplifying the environment and bringing to each new experience or event a pre-established frame of reference for understanding it” (1992). Meanings of the term mindset in positive psychology emphasises individual or organisational beliefs. (French, 2016) Psychologist Carol Dweck states that mindsets “are just beliefs” and “frame the running account that’s taking place in people’s heads. They guide the whole interpretation process” (2006). Consequently, after consideration and evaluation of the numerous theories produced by the several scholars previously mentioned, this research report will focus on Dweck’s theory of growth and fixed mindsets.
Dweck (Vali, 2012) further describes mindsets as the perspective of individuals concerning their distinctive characteristics (e.g., abilities and personality traits) as fixed, uncontrollable attributes (fixed mindset) that cannot change through effort or flexible, well- disciplined qualities that could be stimulated through determination and investment (growth mindset). Children can be growth mindset oriented, where they realise their capability as something that can be amplified with time and determination and perceive the experience of school in relation to learning purposes. (Blackwell et al., 2007; Dweck et al., 1988) Moreover, children with the growth mindset are mindful and willing to receive ego threats within their discernment of their distinctive capabilities, so that they can frequently re-examine and assess their learning process and amplify their potential. (Khalkhali, 2018) However, other children can be fixed mindset oriented, where they see their capabilities as stagnant and intransigent, therefore believing that they have only a certain amount of ability and they cannot do anything to change it and perceive schoolwork in relation to performance goals (Dweck, 2000).
Dweck also argues that fixed mindset also generates a perseverance to verify oneself, and the failures encountered by the child might be supposed as an undeviating measure of their capability and self-worth. (Teunissen, 2013) These children are not simply more probable to make deleterious verdicts concerning their intelligence, but they are also more likely to display negative affection and debilitation following failures and let-downs. (Khalkhali, 2018) Evidently, these two mindsets encompass beliefs that shape the way children understand themselves and how they produce distinctive paths for learning. (Plaks et al., 2009). An example of Dweck’s research findings would be her study of how fifth grade children respond to praise and how this impacts their mindset.
Dweck found that children who were praised for their intelligence were more prone to see their intelligence as a fixed trait. (Haimovitz, 2017) Shortly after being praised, Dweck discovered that the children rejected a difficult task that they could learn from in preference of a simpler one that presented no threat to their smartness. (Haimovitz, 2017) In comparison, children who were praised for the process that brought about their achievement (in this case, hard work) saw their intelligence as something they could advance in and consequently continued to remain focused and motivated on learning. (Haimovitz, 2017) They chose the difficult tasks that they might learn from over the simpler tasks. (Haimovitz, 2017) Moreover, Dweck learnt that when children were later given an extremely difficult task, those praised for their progression did not question their capabilities—they persevered more, enjoyed the task more, and did better than the first group that was previously mentioned. (Haimovitz, 2017). Although Dweck’s research findings contribute to the question of ‘do children’s mindsets change from growth to fixed as they mature?’, it does not answer the question. Henceforth, the hypothesis that this research report is established on is that a fixed mindset is more common amongst older children and a growth mindset is more common amongst younger children, evidently being that as children age, their mindset transforms from growth to fixed.
Participants One hundred and eighty-seven children and adolescents participated in the study. Participants were between 5 and 15 years of age (M = 11.58, SD = 1.62), and 116 (62%) were female. The distribution of participants at each age is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1. Distribution of participants across age. All participating children and adolescents were personally known to student-researchers enrolled in a second-year educational psychology class in Sydney, Australia. Participants were asked to provide verbal consent to participate in the study, and parents/guardians provided written consent.
Mindset vignette. To investigate participants’ willingness to seek or avoid a challenge, they were presented with a vignette adapted from Yeager et al. (2016). In Yeager et al.’s original vignette, students were asked to imagine that they had a choice of two maths assignments. Given the young age of participants in this study, we instead asked them to imagine that they had a choice of two worksheets. We then explained: “One worksheet is easy—it has maths questions you already know how to solve, and you will probably get most of the answers right without having to think very much. It takes 30 minutes. The other worksheet is a hard challenge— it has maths problems you don’t know how to solve, and you will probably get most of the problems wrong, but you might learn something new. It also takes 30 minutes”. Participants were asked to indicate which worksheet they would choose, and why. Mindset scale. The mindset scale (adapted from Dweck, 2006) was used to investigate whether participants had a fixed or growth mindset. The mindset scale contains 8 statements about the nature of intelligence and talent (e.g. “No matter who you are, you can change your intelligence level”). Participants were asked to rate each statement on a four-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”, and each response was then transformed into a score from 0-3. Responses consistent with a growth mindset were given higher scores, and those consistent with a fixed mindset were given lower scores. After summing all scores together, participants were categorized as follows: 0-8 = strong fixed mindset; 9-13 = fixed mindset with some growth ideas, 14-17 = growth with some fixed ideas, 18-24 = strong growth mindset.
Each student-researcher (or, student-researcher pair) worked with one participant, at a location chosen by the parent/guardian. Following a period of rapport building, the student- researcher administered the mindset vignette and mindset scale. The student-researcher then thanked the participant for their time and concluded the interview.
To determine whether participant mindsets change across age, we conducted a correlation between participant age and their overall score on the Mindset scale. Before we began, however, we conducted a data screening process. Due to natural variation in our sampling, there were only four participating 5-year-olds, four participating 6-year-olds, and eight participating 7-year-olds (see Participants). Because we could not be confident that these participants would be genuinely representative of others the same age, we excluded these participants and conducted the correlation with participants aged 8 to 15 only. The correlation between age and Mindset score was significant, r = -.21, p < .05, with scores decreasing with age. Given that higher scores represented stronger growth mindsets, this means that participants were more likely to introduce fixed mindset beliefs as they got older. To confirm this finding, we conducted supplementary binary correlations with three mindset categories (strong fixed mindsets were excluded as few fell into this category). Age did not correlate with strong growth mindsets, r = .01, p > .05. As can be seen in Table 1, however, growth mindsets with some fixed ideas decreased with age, while fixed mindsets with some growth ideas increased with age, rs > .19, ps < .05.
Next, we examined participants’ responses to the mindset vignette. This vignette provided a supplementary analysis of how mindset beliefs might influence students’ specific educational choices at different ages. Consistent with a fixed mindset, participants who chose the easy task reported that they wanted to avoid challenge or to get the problem right. Consistent with a growth mindset, participants who chose the hard task reported that they wanted to learn something new or be challenged.
Significant age differences in participants’ preferences were detected, ?² = 14.83, p < .05. As shown in Table 2, older participants were more likely to choose the easy task representing a fixed mindset, whereas younger participants more likely to choose the hard task representing a growth mindset.
The key results that were found in the research process significantly support the hypothesis established at the start of this report. The mindset scale suggested growth mindsets with some fixed ideas decreased with age, while fixed mindsets with some growth ideas increased with age. The mindset vignette indicated that the older participants were more likely to choose the easy task, representing a fixed mindset, whereas younger participants were more likely to choose the hard task, representing a growth mindset. The results found distinctly correspond to Dweck’s work regarding growth and fixed mindsets. In regard to Dweck’s philosophies concerning growth and fixed mindsets, the results in this report are consistent as they relay previous notions indicated by Dweck, such as that children with a growth mindset amplify their potential with determination (choosing a harder task). (Khalkhali, 2018) An inconsistency that may be considered in relation to research is that Dweck, in her study, only observed fifth grade children, whilst the research in this report covered children aged five to fifteen. However, this is because Dweck’s research focused on praise, whilst this research report focused on age.
The findings from the research conducted also hold significance in educational context. Students that have a fixed mindset may choose an easier task to undertake, which could lead to the student falling behind, significantly limiting their learning progress. Students with a growth mindset, however, may choose the harder task, further prompting the student to take action in increasing their own learning. Teachers, with this information, should start to promote a growth mindset in their students instead of a fixed mindset to allow them to increase their potential. In answering the question of ‘do children’s mindsets change from growth to fixed as they mature?’, this research report finds that a child’s mindset does in fact change from growth to fixed as they mature. However, limitations of this report include the age range of the participants, the number of participants and the materials used. If a larger number of participants were used and the age of the participants extended to eighteen, a deeper analysis of mindsets in relation to age could have been made and might have led to different or new results. If there were additional materials used rather than just the mindset scale and the mindset vignette, a greater evaluation of growth and fixed mindsets might have also transpired. In conclusion, it can be seen that a fixed mindset is more common amongst older children and a growth mindset is more common amongst younger children, evidently being that as children age, their mindset transforms from growth to fixed.
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