Who Is Carol Dweck and Why Is She Famous?

Carol Dweck is challenging previously held views on the roles of intelligence and success.
Christopher McFadden

Professor Carol Dweck is an American psychologist and award-winning author whose theory of mindsets is challenging the way we see success. Is it due to innate abilities? Or is it more to do with how you view success and failure

Here we explore who Carol Dweck is and discuss her interesting theories on "growth" and "fixed" mindsets


Who is Carol Dweck?

Carol S. Dweck is an American Professor of Psychology. She is best known for her work on the mindset of psychological traits. 

"My work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions people use to structure the self and guide their behavior. My research looks at the origins of these self-conceptions, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes." - Carol Dweck

Currently the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, she has taught at other prestigious institutions throughout her career. These include seats at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the University of Illinois prior to her joining the Stanford University faculty in 2004.

Dweck was born in New York and was her parent's only daughter, and middle sibling, of three children. She would later graduate from Barnard College in 1967 and went on to pursue her Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale University in 1972. 

Apart from her very successful academic career, Dweck is also an award-winning author. Her book  Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was awarded the Book of The Year in 1999 by the World Education Federation.

Dweck has won various awards and honors throughout her illustrious career, including but not limited to: -

  • Book Award for Self-Theories, World Education Federation (an organization of the United Nations and UNICEF) (2004)
  • Donald Campbell Career Achievement Award in Social Psychology, Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2008)
  • Award for Innovative Program of the Year, “Brainology” (2008)
  • Ann L. Brown Award for Research in Developmental Psychology, University of Illinois (2009)
  • Klingenstein Award for Leadership in Education, Klingenstein Center, Columbia University (2010)
  • Thorndike Career Achievement Award in Educational Psychology, American Psychological Association (2010)
  • Beckman Mentoring Award, Columbia University (2011)
  • Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, American
  • Psychological Association (2011)
  • Gallery of Scientists, Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (2011)
  • James McKeen Cattell Lifetime Achievement Award, Association for Psychological Science (2013)
  • Distinguished Scholar Award, Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2013)

Dweck is married to David Goldman who is a National Theatre Director, critic, and Founder/Director of the National Center for New Plays at Stanford University. Despite having no genetic children of her own, she helps her husband care for his two children from his previous marriage. 

What is Carol Dweck's theory?

Dweck's work has primarily centered around the psychology of people's motivations, personality, and development. Her main contribution to psychology relates to challenging certain aspects of the main theories of intelligence and its implications for success in life. 

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She believes that individuals can be placed on a continuum of sorts based on their implicit views of where ability and success originate. Some will believe that success is innate and are said to have a "fixed mindset" according to Dweck.

Others, Dweck postulates, believe that their success is based on hard work, learning, training, and doggedness. These individuals are said to have a "growth" or an "incremental" theory of intelligence, aka a "growth mindset".

It should be noted at this point that her theory is not without its fair and valid criticisms

Another key part of Dweck's theory of mindsets is that individuals might not necessarily realize they have them. Yet they can still be discerned through observations of their behavior. 

One key identifier of an individual's mindset is their reaction to failure. Those with "fixed-mindsets" tend to dread failure as it is, in their mind, an indictment of their basic abilities. 

Those with "growth mindsets" don't fear failure as much as they realize it is only a temporary setback. They can, after all, improve their skills and abilities to overcome failure in the future. 

Dweck argues that a "growth mindset" is the better of the two to allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. 

"In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it." - Carol Dweck

Carol goes further with her proposals on mindsets. By her estimation, these mindsets are instilled in childhood. 

She argues that children that receive a lot of flattering praise as a child, e.g. "good job, you're very smart", will tend to develop a fixed mindset in adulthood. On the other hand, if children receive compliments like "good job, you worked very hard", they are more likely to develop a "growth mindset". 

What is the growth mindset theory?

As we have already alluded to, Dweck's "growth mindset" theory is one where an individual realizes that a person's abilities are, in a way, malleable. Success can be achieved through self-improvement over time through learning and experiences. 

In other words, being born intelligent does not necessarily equate to success. Not only that but individuals with a "growth mindset" tend to thrive on challenges and see failure as a lesson to improve rather than exposing their inadequacies in a certain area. 

"Those who hold this view find fulfillment from the learning/growing process itself and also see the potential for prospects to continually lead to better opportunities." - positivepsychology.com

How does Carol Dweck define a growth mindset?

According to Carol Dweck, the main differences between a "growth" and "fixed" mindset are as follows: -

 "In one world, effort is a bad thing," Dweck explains in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. "It, like failure, means you're not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn't need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented." 

7 takeaway facts about Carol Dweck

1. Carol Dweck was born on the 17th of October, 1946 in New York. She is currently 73 years old. 

2. She graduated from Barnard College in 1967 and completed her Ph.D. in Psychology at Yale Unversity in 1972. 

3. Dweck currently holds the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University position.

4. Dweck is best known for her work on motivation, achievement, and mindsets. 

5. Dweck has held posts at other prestigious universities including Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Illinois prior to joining Standford.

6. Her book  Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was awarded the Book of The Year in 1999 by the World Education Federation.

7. If her theory is true, it would mean that praising a child's intelligence, rather than effort, could negatively affect their future. This could have serious implications in numerous areas ranging from education and business and sports. 

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