Growth mindset theory is ‘overplayed’ and could be harmful, geneticist warns

The TES is reporting that a leading geneticist has challenged the growth mindset theory warning that it is “greatly overplayed” and could even be harmful to children.

Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at King’s College London, voiced his concerns in an exclusive interview with TES.

The growth mindset theory, developed by Stanford University-based psychologist Professor Carol Dweck, states that an individual’s learning is shaped by whether they believe their intelligence is fixed or can be changed…

But Professor Plomin says that genetics play a big role in determining how much of a natural appetite and inclination to learn pupils have. Therefore, the assumption that changing their attitude to learning can make a big difference is misplaced, he argues.   

“Growth mindset, I feel, is greatly overplayed,” Professor Plomin told TES.

“If you try to tell kids who have trouble learning, ‘You can do it, you can change’, you can actually do some harm. Because some kids are going to find it really difficult; it isn’t just a matter of positive thinking. Kids aren’t stupid. I don’t believe the evidence base is all that strong…”

“That’s not to say you can’t change growth mindset or you can’t give kids more grit,” he said. “You can, and it’s probably not a bad idea at some level. But if you think that’s really what it’s all about, God, it’s just a tiny piece of the action…

“I don’t want to knock it, but what I don’t like is that it’s a silver bullet, a quick fix. ‘Change these kids’ mindsets and they’re all going to go to Oxbridge.’ That’s nuts.”

Read the full interview with Professor Plomin in today’s TESmagazine.

More (including a response from Carol Dweck) at: Growth mindset theory is ‘overplayed’ and could be harmful, geneticist warns


Professor Dweck, in response, seems to suggest Professor Plomin is using an over-simplified version of growth mindset, but what do you think? 

Please give us your reactions and feedback in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. Professor Plomin has oversimplified Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’.
    That said, Plomin’s research into the role of genetics shouldn’t be dismissed. This makes people uncomfortable because it smacks of eugenics and views of Aryan supremacy.  But Plomin seems to be suggesting that heredity plays a part in how brains are receptive to learning (this is a crude simplification).
    This needs to be taken seriously because politicians think all children can succeed if provided with ‘good’ teachers and there are ‘no excuses’ for failure.

  2. olivercavigliol

    GeoffreyPetty Same thing happened in business where empowerment failed to live up to promises Harvard Business Review concluded

  3. GeoffreyPetty

    olivercavigliol I think growth mindset is necessary, powerful but not sufficient. Students also need strategies and help to overcome probs.

  4. GeoffreyPetty

    olivercavigliol I think growth mindset is necessary, powerful but not sufficient. Students also need strategies and help to overcome probs.

  5. olivercavigliol

    GeoffreyPetty Yes of course. Not sure it’s even necessary. I certainly didn’t have such s mind set as a kid. Did Wittgenstein? Did he know?

  6. olivercavigliol

    GeoffreyPetty Yes agreed. Not sure it’s necessary though. Did Wittgenstein have one? Did all successful learners? Post hoc ergo propter hoc

  7. peterabarnard

    SchoolsImprove Hey Prof don’t stop: add safeguarding, resilience, mindfulness to the bandwagon. It’s what education is<fads, fixes, add-ons

  8. BrumbyAndrew

    SchoolsImprove Like many things in education it can b a red herring when implemented in isolation as l8est fad Nuanced discussion required

  9. KElwis

    MalcolmWilson01 SchoolsImprove Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows this but GMS stops able and less able students cruising.

  10. SchoolLead2013

    SchoolsImprove think he might be missing the point and demonstrating a bit of a fixed mindset. GM is about developing a can do attitude!

Let us know what you think...