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In decision theory and general systems theory, a mindset is a set of assumptions, methods, or notions held by one or more people or groups of people.[1] A mindset can also be seen as arising out of a person's world view or philosophy of life.[2]

A mindset may be so firmly established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools.[citation needed] The latter phenomenon is also sometimes described as mental inertia, "groupthink", and it is often difficult to counteract its effects upon analysis and decision making processes.

In cognitive psychology, a mindset represents the cognitive processes activated in response to a given task (French, 2016).

History of research[edit]

It would appear that some of the earliest empirical explorations of mindset originated in the early 1900s (Gollwitzer 1990, 2012). These studies are identified as foundational and precursory for the study of cognition (Gollwitzer 1990, 2012). The attention to mindset within the study of cognitive psychology has continued relatively unabated. In addition to the field of cognitive psychology, the use of mindset is evident within the social sciences and several other fields (e.g., positive psychology). A characteristic of this area of study, in all its various manifestations, is the fragment use of mindset throughout the academy (e.g. French, 2016).

In politics[edit]

A well-known[by whom?] 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.[citation needed] Although most consider that this mindset usefully served to prevent an attack by either country, the assumptions underlying deterrence theory have made assessments of the efficacy of the Cold War mindset a matter of some controversy.

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. 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,[3][4] 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).[5]


Naturally, the question regarding the embodiment of a collective mindset comes to mind. Erikson's (1974) analysis of group-identities and what he calls a life-plan seems relevant here. He recounts the example of American Indians, who were meant to undergo a reeducation process meant to imbue a modern "life-plan" that aimed for a house and a richness expressed by a filled bank account. Erikson writes that the Indians' collective historic identity as buffalo hunters was oriented around such fundamentally different reasons/goals that even communication about the divergent "life plans" was itself difficult.

There is a double relation between the institution embodying for example an entrepreneurial mindset and its entrepreneurial performance. Firstly, 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. In short, philosophical stance codified in the mind, hence as mindset, lead to a climate that in turn causes values that lead to practice.

Collective mindsets in this sense are described in such works as Hutchin's "Cognition in the wild" (1995), who analyzes a whole team of naval navigators as the cognitive unit or as computational system, or Senges' Knowledge entrepreneurship in universities (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.

Most historians use the concept of mentality or mindset to denote very slowly changing mental dispositions active over longer periods of time, but occasionally there have been efforts to also apply it to much more rapidly changing historical situations such as the French revolution (Michel Vovelle) or the short period of Allied occupation of Germany after World War II (Hentschel 2007).

Specific theories[edit]

Types and theories[edit]

As previously alluded to, there is a great deal of variation within the study of mindsets. This variation includes how to define, measure, and conceptualize a mindset as well as the types of mindset identified. Even amongst scholars within the same disciple studying the same mindset, substantial variations exist (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 the academy.

Mindset agency theory[edit]

Mindset theory, as based on the cultural values defined by Sagiv and Schwarts,[6] explains the nature, functions, and variables that make up the characteristics of personality.[7] The mindscape theory and cultural values outlined by Sagive and Schwarts combine to make a more comprehensive whole of mindset agency theory.[8]

Mindscape theory[edit]

The MBTI deals with psychological functions that together with paired 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 the mindscape theory of Maruyama which works with epistemological types. Mindscapes seek to measure individuals on a scale of characteristics and placed into four categories of personalities that make up the population of the world.[9][10] Each contain 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.[6] 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". In particular, an individual's mindset impacts how they face and cope with challenges, such as the transition into junior high school from elementary school or losing your job.

Dweck states that there are two categories (growth mindset versus fixed mindset) that can group individuals based on their behavior, specifically their reaction to failure.

Fixed Mindset

People with a "fixed mindset" believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities.

In a 2012 interview, Dweck defined both fixed and growth mindsets:

In a fixed mindset, individuals believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. Those with a fixed mindset believe there is no increasing their talents or abilities. They believed they will be born with all the ability they will have. Those with a fixed mindset only enjoy hearing about their success. On the other side, those with a fixed mindset dread failure because they see it as never being able to succeed in the future.[11]

Growth Mindset

According to Dweck, individuals with a "growth" mindset are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks. Those with a "growth mindset" believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study. Dweck argues that the growth mindset "will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life".

In the same 2012 interview Dweck said this about a growth mindset:

In a growth mindset, individuals understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They do not necessarily think everyone is the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

An example of a person with a growth mindset is an employee who, when posed with an extraordinarily challenging assignment, takes the project as a growing opportunity instead of one that will defeat them. Despite whatever lack of success they may have, this individual would appreciate the opportunity to learn from such difficulty and gain knowledge, instead of feeling defeated about any incompleteness or lack of success.

A word that closely relates to a growth mindset is grit. Grit can be defined as the combination of determination and perseverance.[12] Keown and Bourke discussed the importance for those growing up to have not only a growth mindset but also grit. The combination of these two things. In their study they 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.

Classroom implications[edit]

A large part of Dweck's research on mindsets has been done in the field of education, and how these 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.[13] 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".[13] As such, it is important for educators to carefully craft and design meaningful learning activities for their students to engage in the classroom. According to Dweck 2010, "the teacher should portray challenges as fun and exciting, while portraying easy tasks as boring and less useful for the brain".[13] Students who are engaged in more challenging learning activities, have more opportunities to make mistakes and struggle, allowing the teacher to interject with some 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, writing letters, or having students share with one another something they used to be poor at and now are very good at.[13] In a recent study by Hussein (2018), the effects of reflective journal writing on students' growth mindset was examined. It was found that the use of 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.[14]

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. More specifically, 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.[13] Overall, it is clear to see that 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 our personality – such as sensitivity to mistakes and setbacks – can make us predisposed towards holding a certain mindset, we are able to develop and reshape our mindset through our interactions.[15] In multiple studies, Dweck and her colleagues noted that alterations in mindset could be achieved through "praising the process through which success was achieved",[16] "having [college aged students] read compelling scientific articles that support one view or the other",[15] 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".[17] These studies all demonstrate how framing and discussing students' work and effort play a considerable role in the type of mindset students develop and students' conceptions of their own ability.

While a great deal of research in the education field has focused on a students ability to adopt a growth mindset, less attention and focus has been given to teacher 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."[18] In a recent study by Patrick & Joshi (2019), the way teachers explain growth and fixed mindsets was explored. Using 150 semi-structured interviews, two major findings were revealed. The first finding was that teachers' prior beliefs about learning and learners influenced how they engaged with these mindsets.[19] Secondly, it was found that many teachers tended to oversimplify the concepts of a growth and fixed mindset into positive and negative traits.[19] This suggests the need for more teacher training and support in order for teachers to be able to successfully implement growth mindset initiatives in their classrooms. A study conducted by 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. It was found that the training sessions had an impact on teachers' mindsets & this change was sustained three months after the training as well.[20] The results of this study suggest that adults' mindsets are malleable and can shift if the right supports are in place.[20] This study reinforces the bond between a teacher's own beliefs and how they can strongly influence the mindset of his/her 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. However, studies on this topic show that there is a disparity in the fixed and growth mindsets of females and males. In Boaler's Ability and Mathematics: the Mindset Revolution that is Reshaping Education, the author argues that fixed mindset beliefs lead to inequalities in education; these findings partially explain low achievement and participation amongst minorities and female students.[21] Boaler's research shows that many women feel as though they are not smart enough nor capable enough to continue in certain subjects, such as STEM areas of academia. Boaler uses Carol Dweck's research showing that "gender differences in mathematics performance only existed among fixed mindset students" (Boaler, 2013).

In addition, L.S. Blackwell delivered research exploring if growth mindsets can be promoted within minority groups (Boaler, 2013). This is the mindset in which Boaler and Dweck believe people 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). Educational systems focusing on creating a growth mindset environment allow girls to feel like their intelligence is malleable rather than constant.

Implications for at risk students[edit]

Dweck's research and theory of growth and fixed mindsets has been 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.[22] In particular, a study by Rhew, Piro, Goolkasian & Cosentino (2018), suggested that a growth mindset intervention can increase the motivation levels of adolescent special education participants.[23] In another study, it was suggested that substance use has adverse effects on adolescent reasoning.[24] 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 behaviour can be changed with effort.[24]


In recent years, there has been criticism leveled at "growth mindset" as a concept, and the related research that has been carried out.[25]

Benefit mindset[edit]

In 2015, Ashley Buchanan 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.[26]

Buchanan argues "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, organisations 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). Essentially, 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). The changes implied in such need have been termed Cultural agility.[27]

One of the defining characteristics of the study of global mindset is the variety in which scholars conceptualize and operationalize the construct; and yet; scholars typically agree that global mindset and its development increases 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, while those with the scarcity mindset believe that there is a limited number of resources and that one's gain must entail another's loss, leading to competition for resources.

Productive and defensive[edit]

According to Chris Argyris (2004), there are two dominant mindsets in organizations: the productive mindset and the defensive mindset.[28] The productive mindset seeks out valid knowledge that is testable. The productive reasoning mindset creates informed choices and makes reasoning transparent.

The defensive mindset, on the other hand, is self-protective and self-deceptive. When this mindset is active, people or organizations only seek out information that will protect them. Truth can be shut out when it is seen as threatening. The defensive mindset may lead to learning based on false assumptions or prevent learning altogether (Argyris, 2004).

See also[edit]

Dual mentality[edit]


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