Dweck, Carol S(usan) 1946-
Carol Susan Dweck is a leading expert on achievement motivation. She has investigated variables that impact individuals' adaptive versus maladaptive responses to academic challenges. Dweck received her BA from Barnard College, Columbia University in 1967, graduating magna cum laude with honors in psychology. She continued her education at Yale University, where she was a National Science Foundation Fellow (1967–1971) and earned a PhD in psychology in 1972. Dweck began her academic career in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, first as an assistant professor (1972–1977) and then as an associate professor (1977–1981), and returned there later as a professor (1985–1989). From 1981 to 1985 she was a professor at Harvard University in the Laboratory for Human Development. From 1989 to 2004 she was on the faculty of Columbia University, where she was the William B. Ransford Professor of Psychology. Since 2004 Dweck has been the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
Based on extensive research, Dweck has identified two major achievement motivation patterns. In each, individuals' implicit theory of intelligence (i.e., their beliefs about the nature of intelligence), goal orientation, and response to academic challenges are associated. Those with an entity theory view their intelligence as a fixed trait that cannot be developed. They tend to endorse performance goals that focus on obtaining a positive evaluation of their ability and avoiding a negative evaluation. When they experience failure they typically show a helpless response characterized by blaming failure on lack of ability, decreasing the sophistication of problem solving strategies, abandoning the task completely, and displaying negative emotion. In contrast, those with an incremental theory view their intelligence as a malleable quality with potential to be developed. They pursue learning goals that focus on increasing their skills. When faced with a challenge they demonstrate a mastery-oriented response that includes blaming failure on lack of effort, increasing the sophistication of problem-solving strategies, and displaying positive emotion. Notably, these motivation patterns impact responses to academic challenge regardless of individuals' intellectual ability (e.g., those with either low or high ability may show helplessness).
Research has indicated that beginning in junior high school, when academic challenges increase, achievement motivation patterns are related to student outcomes. For example, seventh grade students who endorsed an incremental theory earned higher grades in math over the next two years than students with an entity theory, even when controlling for prior achievement (Blackwell, Trzesniew-ski, & Dweck, 2007). College students' endorsement of learning goals positively predicted their grade in a chemistry course, as well as grade improvement across the semester (Grant & Dweck, 2003).
Dweck (2007) provides a motivation-based explanation for gender differences in math and science achievement. Girls, particularly bright girls, are especially vulnerable to a loss of confidence and helpless behavior when they encounter confusing material (Licht & Dweck, 1984). Given that math and science typically involve new concepts and skills that may cause confusion, girls' greater likelihood for maladaptive responses to such challenges may contribute to their poorer achievement in these areas.
Dweck's findings have important applications for educational practice. To promote adaptive student functioning, the classroom climate should encourage incremental theories, learning goals, and effort-based attributions. In an intervention study, Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck (2007) taught seventh grade students that intelligence is malleable and can be developed. The intervention group exhibited stable performance in math, whereas the control group showed a steady decline. These results suggest that promoting an incremental theory generated greater motivation in the classroom. Emphasizing learning goals (and minimizing a focus on performance goals) is also a strategy for increasing mastery-oriented behavior (Elliott & Dweck, 1988). Another effective approach involves teaching students to attribute their failures to lack of effort rather than lack of ability. Effort attributers are more persistent when challenged (Dweck, 1975). Finally, although teachers frequently use praise to encourage achievement, Mueller and Dweck (1998) have shown that focusing praise on students' ability tends to have negative consequences for motivation. Specifically, those praised for their intelligence tend to care more about performance goals and show more helpless responding when challenged. Thus, educators should be careful to direct praise to students' efforts. This ultimately encourages students to value learning opportunities and persistence.
Throughout her career, Dweck has collaborated with dozens of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263.
Dweck, C. S. (1975). The role of expectations and attributions in the alleviation of learned helplessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 674–685.
Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. New York: Psychology Press.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). Is math a gift? Beliefs that put females at risk. In S. J. Ceci & W. M. Williams (Eds.), Why aren't more women in science: Top researchers debate the evidence (pp. 47–56). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256–273.
Elliott, E. S., & Dweck, C. S. (1988). Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 5–12.
Elliott, E. S., & Dweck, C. S. (Eds.). (2005). Handbook of competence and motivation. New York: Guilford Press.
Grant, H., & Dweck, C. S. (2003). Clarifying achievement goals and their impact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 541–553.
Heckhausen, J. & Dweck, C. S. (Eds.). (1998). Motivation and self-regulation across the life span. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Licht, B. G., & Dweck, C. S. (1984). Determinants of academic achievement: The interaction of children's achievement orientations with skill area. Developmental Psychology, 20, 628–636.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52.
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