The growth mindset has gained popularity in education and work environments where it is touted as the solution to cure all organizational ills. However, recent research shows that such claims are overstated. GETTY.

The concept of fostering a growth mindset has attracted a great deal of attention since it was conceived by Carol Dweck more than 30 years ago. Since then, Dweck has gone on to evangelize the growth mindset through her book, TED talk and the company she founded, Mindset Works, which describe the adoption of a growth mindset as not only transformative, but critical for success in today’s performance-oriented world. Mindset can purportedly explain “our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” This is no minor assertion.

But in spite of the growth mindset’s popular acclaim, researchers are beginning to wonder whether the enthusiasm around it is warranted. Recent research demonstrates an impact of mindset on achievement outcomes, but with small effects that are often limited to a subset of the general population.

Carol Dweck describes mindset as the set of beliefs around one’s abilities, such as intelligence, and assigns people to one of two mindset camps: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. While a person with a fixed mindset is said to believe that attributes are fixed and resist change through effort, someone with a growth mindset believes that these attributes are malleable, so they can be changed through effort and determination.

The growth mindset revolution began in educational systems, with schools feverishly adopting mindset training programs, and in recent years has extended to adult work environments where organizations are looking to inspire and motivate their workforces. The appeal of the growth mindset is unsurprisingly seductive: All you have to do is get your employees to think in terms of learning and growth, and a world of possibilities is unlocked. Say goodbye to complacency, and hello to endless productivity.

But as growth mindset trainings begin to spring up everywhere, it’s worth asking what the evidence says when it comes to the effect of mindset on achievement. Recent studies shed some light on the extent to which mindset matters, and it appears that the impact of a growth mindset may be overstated.

In a recent meta-analysis, where researchers compiled published mindset studies to analyze together, they found very low correlations between growth mindset and academic achievement, which were not statistically significant for adults. They also looked at studies testing growth mindset interventions to search for a causal relationship between mindset programs and achievement, and found that almost 90% of the interventions had no effect.

There was, however, a small effect of a mindset intervention for one notable group — students from low socioeconomic status households. Economically disadvantaged students did benefit from growth mindset training, and another recently published large national study confirms this. This finding is noteworthy because, while it may not make sense to provide mindset interventions to the average person, it could very well be a helpful intervention for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder.

On the other hand, even the low SES groups who benefited from the interventions saw only a meager impact from their training to adopt a growth mindset. A cost-benefit analysis would likely point to alternative interventions as more worthwhile, and could address the problem of poverty head-on rather than a mere symptom of it. The very real differences in opportunity among those in poverty and those with greater means are perhaps not best solved by re-framing the situation, but by changing the situation itself. Growth mindset dollars could be put toward alleviating poverty instead of teaching the poor how to deal with it.

And if you are considering rolling out a large-scale growth mindset program in your organization, you might want to reconsider. Although the allure of mindset is undeniable, the data point to finding other ways of spending your hard-earned dollars.

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Originally published at

Aline Holzwarth is an applied behavioral scientist, primarily focusing on digital health research and scientifically informed product design.

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