Belief in Fixed Intelligence Can Undermine Kids’ Performance

Kid getting an ideaChildren who believe intelligence can change with effort may bounce back more quickly from mistakes, according to a study published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. The study found a “growth” orientation toward intelligence enabled children to pay closer attention to their mistakes.

How a ‘Growth Mindset’ Supports Kids’ Learning

Children with a growth orientation believe their level of intelligence can grow and change with effort. Those with a fixed orientation toward intelligence believe intelligence is largely unchangeable, even with effort.

Researchers assessed 123 school-age children with an average age of 7. The children took a computer test while event-related potential (ERP) tests measured brain activity. The test asked the children to help a zookeeper locate lost animals by pressing a key when an animal appeared. If a group of orangutans appeared, the children were supposed to avoid pressing the key.

Within a half second of an error, children’s brain activity increased, suggesting the brain focused on understanding the error. Children with a growth orientation toward learning had greater brain responses after an error. This suggests their brains paid closer attention to the error, allowing them to better understand the mistake. These children were also less likely to make the same mistake again, suggesting the increased brain activity improved performance.

When children with a fixed orientation toward intelligence paid greater attention to their errors, they also saw improvements in performance. Because they were less likely to pay careful attention to their errors, however, they continued to make mistakes.

The study points to previous research suggesting people with a fixed orientation toward intelligence avoid acknowledging mistakes.

Parents’ Role in Intelligence Beliefs

Other studies support the conclusion that beliefs about intelligence can affect performance. Another study found parents’ views about failure affect their children’s views about intelligence. Some parents see failure as debilitating, while others view it as an opportunity for growth. Parents who see failure as debilitating focused more on their children’s performance. This convinced children that intelligence was fixed.

Taken with the current study, this research suggests a parent’s views about failure may affect a child’s performance by swaying the child’s philosophy of intelligence.


  1. Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). What predicts children’s fixed and growth intelligence mind-sets? Not their parents’ views of intelligence but their parents’ views of failure. Psychological Science, 27(6), 859-869. doi:10.1177/0956797616639727
  2. Kids should pay more attention to mistakes, study suggests. (2017, January 30). Retrieved from
  3. Schroder, H. S., Fisher, M. E., Lin, Y., Lo, S. L., Danovitch, J. H., & Moser, J. S. (2017). Neural evidence for enhanced attention to mistakes among school-aged children with a growth mindset. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 42-50. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2017.01.004

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  • Maddie


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:51 AM

    So why would someone ever suggest that new learning can’t occur? Why would you ever wish to tear someone down like that and make them think that no matter how much effort they put into something or how hard they work they can never truly learn something new?
    That’s just cruel

  • andrew


    February 10th, 2017 at 10:51 AM

    Well if you set the bar at a certain point and tell them they will never get above that bar, ten chances are that this is only how high they will challenge themselves.
    Show them that the sky is the limit and you might be amazed how hard they continue to work to reach even higher levels.

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