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Mindset is an "established set of attitudes, esp. regarded as typical of a particular group's social or cultural values; the outlook, philosophy, or values of a person; (now also more generally) frame of mind, attitude, [recte: and] disposition."[1] A mindset may also arise from a person's world view or philosophy of life.[2]

A firmly established mindset could create a powerful incentive to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools, sometimes referred to as cognitive inertia, or "groupthink." Within these phenomena, it is often difficult to counteract its effects upon analysis and decision making processes.[3]

In cognitive psychology, a mindset represents the cognitive processes activated in response to a given task (French, 2016). According to French and Chang (2016), scholarly conceptualizations of mindset shift "to the varied definitions and conceptualizations" which "demarcates this literature via a novel categorization using the construct of mindset."[4]

History of research[edit]

Some of the earliest empirical explorations of mindset originated in the 1900s with the work of psychology professor Peter M. Gollwitzer. These studies are identified as foundational and precursory for the study of cognition (Gollwitzer 1990, 2012). Gollwitzer's most notable contributions include his theory of mindset and the mindset theory of action phases (French, 2016).

In addition to the field of cognitive psychology, the study of mindset is evident within the social sciences and several other fields (e.g., positive psychology). A characteristic of this area of study, in various manifestations, is the fragment use of mindset throughout the academy (e.g. French, 2016).

In politics[edit]

A political example is the "Cold War mindset" prevalent in both the U.S. and USSR, which included absolute trust in two-player game theory, in the integrity of command chain, in control of nuclear materials, and in the mutual assured destruction of both in the case of war.[5] This mindset usefully served to prevent an attack by either country; however, the assumptions underlying deterrence theory have made assessments of the efficacy of the Cold War mindset a matter of some controversy.[6]

Most theorists consider that the key responsibility of an embedded power group is to challenge the assumptions that comprise the group's own mindset.[citation needed] According to these commentators, power groups that fail to review or revise their mindsets with sufficient regularity cannot hold power indefinitely, as a single mindset is unlikely to possess the flexibility and adaptability needed to address all future events. For example, the variations in mindset between Democratic Party and Republican Party presidents in the U.S. may have made that country more able to challenge assumptions than the Kremlin with its more static bureaucracy.

Modern military theory attempts to challenge entrenched mindsets in dealing with asymmetric warfare, terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In combination, these threats represent "a revolution in military affairs" and require very rapid adaptation to new threats and circumstances.[7] In this context, the cost of not implementing adaptive mindsets cannot be afforded.

In system thinking[edit]

Building on Magoroh Maruyama's concept of Mindscape,[8][9] Mindset Theory includes cultural and social orientation type values: Hierarchical Individualism (HI), Egalitarian Individualism (EI), Hierarchical Collectivism (HC), Egalitarian Collectivism (EC), Hierarchic Synergism (HS), Egalitarian Synergism (ES), Hierarchical Populism (HP), and Egalitarian Populism (EP).[10]


Collective mindsets are described in Hutchin's "Cognition in the Wild" (1995) or Senges' "Knowledge entrepreneurship in universities" (2007). Hutchin analyzes a team of naval navigators as the cognitive unit or as a computational system, while Senges discusses the usefulness and functionality entrepreneurship concept by explaining how the concept is identified in the strategy and practice of universities (Senges, 2007).

There are also parallels to the emerging field of "collective intelligence" (e.g. (Zara, 2004)) and exploiting the "Wisdom of the crowds" (Surowiecki, 2005) of stakeholders. Zara notes that since collective reflection is more explicit, discursive, and conversational, it therefore needs a good ¿gestell?—especially when it comes to information and communication technology.

Erik H. Erikson's (1974) analysis of group-identities and what he calls a "life-plan" is relevant to the embodiment of a collective mindset. He recounts the example of American Indians, who were meant to undergo a reeducation process to instill a modern "life-plan" that aimed for housing and wealth. Erikson writes that the Indians' collective historic identity as buffalo hunters was oriented around such fundamentally different motivations that even communication about divergent "life plans" was difficult (Erikson, 1974).

There is a double relation between the institution embodying collective mindset. One example is the entrepreneurial mindset which refers to a person who "values uncertainty in the marketplace and seeks to continuously identify opportunities with the potential to lead to important innovations" (Hitt, 2011, pg. 371). An institution with an entrepreneurial philosophy will set entrepreneurial goals and strategies as a whole, but maybe even more importantly, it will foster an entrepreneurial milieu, allowing each entity to pursue emergent opportunities. A philosophical stance codified in the mind, as mindset, will lead to a climate that in turn causes values that lead to practice. Hitt's novel cites five dimensions of entrepreneurial mindset as "autonomy, innovativeness, risk taking, proactiveness, and competitive aggressiveness" (Hitt, 2011, pg. 354).[11]

Specific theories[edit]

Types and theories[edit]

Variation within the study of mindsets includes how to define, measure, and conceptualize a mindset as well as the types of mindset identified. Substantial variations exist even among scholars within the same discipline, studying the same mindset (French, 2016). Nevertheless, any discussion of mindset should include recognition concerning the numerous, varied, and growing number of mindsets and mindset theories that receive attention in multiple disciplines throughout academia.

Mindset agency theory[edit]

Mindset theory, as based on the cultural values defined by Sagiv and Schwarts,[12] explains the nature, functions, and variables that make up the characteristics of personality.[13] The mindscape theory and cultural values outlined by Sagive and Schwarts combine to make a more comprehensive whole of mindset agency theory.[14]

Mindscape theory[edit]

The Myer's–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) deals with psychological functions that, paired with values of social attitude, combine in certain ways to generate personality patterns called "types" that may be evaluated by exploring individual preferences (which change with context). Different is Maruyama's mindscape theory which works with epistemological types. Mindscapes seek to measure individuals on a scale of characteristics and place them into four categories of personalities that make up the population of the world.[15][16] Each category contains differing views toward information, perception, logic, and ethics. Hierarchical Bureaucrats generally view the world as having natural order with competition and consequences much like natural selection. Independent Princes view the world as random, individualistic, and chaotic with a natural decay that is inevitable. Social Reformers view the world as a balance that can be maintained by symbiosis between everything. Generative Revolutionaries view the world as potential for growth through interaction and symbiosis; change is encouraged.

Sagiv-Schwarts cultural values[edit]

Sagiv and Schwarts posited three bi-polar dimensions to culture based on values.[12] These dimensions contain opposites in the realms of cognitive, figurative, and operative values:

  • Cognitive: embeddedness or autonomy
  • Figurative: mastery or harmony
  • Operative: hierarchy or egalitarian

Fixed and growth mindset [edit]

According to Carol Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of "where ability comes from". The two categorical extremes are fixed mindsets and growth mindsets. In particular, an individual's mindset impacts "motivation to practice and learn".[17] A growth mindset is seen as more positive and helpful, with most research focusing on how to develop this mindset.

Fixed Mindset

Those with a fixed mindset believe "intelligence is static" and there is very little to be done to improve ability.[18] Feedback is seen as an "evaluation of their underlying ability" since success is seen only as a result of this innate ability, not the effort put in. Failure is much more intimidating since it "suggests constraints or limits they would not be able to overcome".[17][19] Those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, and focus on the outcome. They believe that their talents and abilities are a fixed trait that they are either born with or not born with; thus, effort is not valued as worthwhile to the fixed mindset individual.[20]

Growth Mindset

Those with a growth mindset believe "intelligence can be developed" and their abilities can be enhanced through the learning process.[18] With a growth mindset, individuals tend to embrace challenges, persevere in the face of adversity, accept and learn from failure, and focus on the process rather than the outcome. They see talents and abilities as skills that are developed through effort.[21] Feedback and failure are seen as opportunities for increasing ability signaling the "need to pay attention, invest effort, apply time to practice, and master the new learning opportunity".[17]

Grit closely relates to a growth mindset. Grit can be defined as the combination of determination and perseverance.[22] Keown and Bourke discussed the importance for those growing up to have a combination of not only a growth mindset but also grit. Their 2019 study found that those in a lower economic status had a higher chance of success if they had a growth mindset and were willing to work hard through tribulation.[23]

Classroom Implications[edit]

A large part of Dweck's research on mindsets was conducted in the field of education. This research was related to how mindsets affect a student's performance in the classroom. In order for students to effectively adopt a growth mindset, a classroom culture needs to be established that nurtures this type of thinking. One of the ways educators can do this is by creating a growth-mindset culture in their classroom that provides the right kind of praise and encouragement.[24] According to Dweck (2010), "praising students for the process they have engaged in—the effort they applied, the strategies they used, the choices they made, the persistence they displayed, and so on—yields more long-term benefits than telling them they are 'smart' when they succeed".[24] As such, it is important for educators to carefully craft and design meaningful learning activities for their students to engage in the classroom. Dweck (2010) states, "the teacher should portray challenges as fun and exciting, while portraying easy tasks as boring and less useful for the brain".[24] Students who are engaged in more challenging learning activities have more opportunities to make mistakes and struggle, allowing the teacher to interject with new strategies to try while praising students for the work they have done so far.

A second strategy to promote a growth-mindset culture in the classroom is to explicitly teach lessons related to what it means to adopt a growth mindset. Possible activities include establishing personal goals and writing letters. Another practice for promoting growth mindset includes having students "write about and share with one another something they used to be poor at and now are very good at."[24] An additional study by Hinda Hussein (2018), examined the effects of reflective journal writing on students' growth mindset. Findings indicated journaling could positively affect a student's learning process by improving their conceptual knowledge, promoting growth mindset, and enhancing understanding of their thoughts through writing.[25]

The way educators evaluate their students' work and communicate their progress can also contribute to the establishment of a growth mindset culture in the classroom. Dweck (2010) identifies the word "yet" as a valuable tool to assess students' learning. If an educator hears students saying they are not good at something or can't do something, it is important for the teacher to interject with the words "not yet" to reinforce the idea that ability and motivation are fluid.[24] Overall, a classroom that includes challenging learning tasks, praising of the process, and explicit growth mindset teaching and assessment, is a classroom where students will have the tools needed to become lifelong learners.

Reshaping mindsets in students and educators[edit]

While elements of personality – such as sensitivity to mistakes and setbacks – can make us predisposed toward holding a certain mindset, we are able to develop and reshape our mindset through our interactions.[26] In multiple studies, Dweck and her colleagues noted that alterations in mindset could be achieved through "praising the process through which success was achieved",[27] "having [college aged students] read compelling scientific articles that support one view or the other",[26] or teaching junior high school students "that every time they try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections that, over time, make them smarter."[28] These studies demonstrate how framing and discussing students' work and effort plays a considerable role in the type of mindset students develop and students' conceptions of their own ability.

While much of the research in the field of education focuses on a student's ability to adopt a growth mindset, less attention and focus are given to teachers' mindsets and the role they play in influencing their students. Hattie (2012) states, "differing mindsets, or assumptions, that teachers possess about themselves and their students play a significant role in determining their expectations, teaching practices, and how students perceive their own mindset."[29]

A study by Patrick & Joshi (2019) explored the way teachers explain growth and fixed mindsets. Using 150 semi-structured interviews, two major findings were revealed. First, they found that teachers' prior beliefs about learning and learners influenced how they engaged with these mindsets.[30] Secondly, they found that many teachers tended to oversimplify the concepts of a growth and fixed mindset into positive and negative traits.[30] These findings suggest a need for more teacher training and support for teachers to successfully implement growth mindset initiatives in their classrooms.

An additional study conducted by Fiona S. Seaton (2018), looked specifically at the impact of teacher training aimed at influencing their mindsets and the effect on their resulting practice. The teachers in this study underwent six different training sessions. Seaton found that the training sessions had an impact on teachers' mindsets and that this change was sustained three months after the training.[31] The results of this study suggest that adults' mindsets are malleable and can shift if the right supports are in place.[31] This study also reinforces the bond between a teacher's own beliefs and how they can strongly influence the mindset of their students; therefore, further highlighting the need for proper teacher training in order for mindset initiatives within schools to be fully successful.

Fixed and growth mindsets in males vs. females[edit]

Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler have done extensive research on the topics of fixed and growth mindset, which indicates an existing disparity in the fixed and growth mindsets of females and males. Boaler's 2013 article "Ability and Mathematics: the Mindset Revolution that is Reshaping Education," argues that fixed mindset beliefs lead to inequalities in education which partially explains low achievement and participation amongst minorities and female students.[32] Boaler builds on Carol Dweck's research to show that "gender differences in mathematics performance only existed among fixed mindset students" (Boaler, 2013).

Boaler and Dweck argue that people with growth mindsets can gain knowledge. Boaler said, "The key growth mindset message was that effort changes the brain by forming new connections, and that students control this process. The growth mindset intervention halted the students' decline in grades and started the students on a new pathway of improvement and high achievement" (Boaler, 2013, pg. 5). Educational systems focusing on creating a growth mindset environment allow girls to feel like their intelligence is malleable rather than constant.

In addition, L.S. Blackwell (2015) delivered research exploring if growth mindsets can be promoted within minority groups.[33] Blackwell also builds on Dweck's research to observe minority groups and found that "students with a growth mindset had stronger learning goals than the fixed mindset students." These students also "had much more positive attitudes toward effort, agreeing that “when something is hard, it just makes me want to work more on it, not less.” Students with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, were more likely to say that “If you’re not good at a subject, working hard won’t make you good at it,” and “When I work hard at something, it makes me feel like I’m not very smart.” (Blackwell, 2015).

Implications for at risk students[edit]

Dweck's research on the theory of growth and fixed mindsets is useful in intervention strategies with at risk students, dispelling negative stereotypes in education held by teachers and students, understanding the impacts of self-theories on resilience, and understanding how process praise can foster a growth mindset and positively impact students' motivation levels.[34] Other scholars have conducted further research building on Dweck's findings. In particular, a study by Rhew et al. (2018) suggested that a growth mindset intervention can increase the motivation levels of adolescent special education participants.[35] Another study by Wang et al. (2019) suggested that substance use has adverse effects on adolescent reasoning.[36] Developing a growth mindset in these adolescents was shown to reduce this adverse effect.

These studies further illustrate how educators can use intervention strategies, targeting a growth mindset, by allowing students to see that their behavior can be changed with effort.[36]


In recent years, criticism has been directed at "growth mindset" as a concept, and related research. Moreau et al. (2019) suggest "that overemphasizing the malleability of abilities and other traits can have negative consequences for individuals, science, and society."[37]

Benefit mindset[edit]

In 2015, Ashley Buchanan and Margaret L. Kern proposed a complementary evolution to the fixed and growth mindset called the benefit mindset. The benefit mindset describes society's everyday leaders who promote well-being on both an individual and a collective level. That is, people who discover their strengths to make valuable contributions to causes that are greater than the self. They question why they do what they do, positioning their actions within a purposeful context.[38]

Buchanan and Kern argue "creating cultures of contribution and everyday leadership could be one of the best points of leverage we have for simultaneously bringing out the best in people, organizations and the planet."

Global mindset[edit]

Originating from the study of organizational leadership and coinciding with the growth of multinational corporations in the 1980s, organizations observed that the effectiveness of their executives did not necessarily translate cross-culturally. Global mindset emerged as an explanation (Javidan & Walker, 2013). Leaders in cross-cultural contexts were hypothesized to need an additional skill, ability, or proficiency (i.e. a global mindset) to enable effectiveness regardless of the culture or context (Perlmutter, 1969; Rhinesmith, 1992). Cultural agility[39] refers to the changes implied in such need.

One of the defining characteristics of the study of global mindset is the variety in which scholars conceptualize and operationalize the construct. Yet, scholars typically agree that global mindset and its development increase global effectiveness for both individuals and organizations (French & Chang, 2016).

Abundance and scarcity[edit]

Those with abundance mindset believe that there are enough resources for everyone, seeing the glass half full. While those with the scarcity mindset believe that there is a limited number of resources, seeing the glass half empty.[40] Mehta and Zhu (2012) found that a "scarcity mindset makes people think beyond established functionalities to explore broadly for solutions, thereby heightening creativity. In contrast, an abundance mindset induces functional fixedness, thereby reducing creativity."[41]

Productive and defensive[edit]

According to Chris Argyris (2004), there are two dominant mindsets in organizations: the productive mindset and the defensive mindset.[42] The productive mindset is hinged in logic and focuses on the knowledge and its certifiable results. This is more of a decision-making mindset which is transparent and auditable (Argyris, 2004).

The defensive mindset is a closed mindset like fixed mindset and is self-protective as well as self-deceptive. This mindset does not look at the greater good but centers on saving the skin of the person holding this mindset. It is highly likely that truth, if perceived harmful for the person concerned, would be shut down. This may allow personal growth but no organizational growth or development (Argyris, 2004).

See also[edit]

Dual mentality[edit]



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