Posted on April 4, 2012
I was reading a fascinating article yesterday entitled “Intelligence and Other Stereotypes: The Power of Mindset” written by Maria Konnikova, in the Scientific American (thanks to my friend Karen Hanretty, who posted it on her Faceback page). The basic premise is that how your mindset informs how you greet life’s challenges.
Here is an edited excerpt of the piece:
“You can believe that intelligence is either incremental or that it is a fixed entity. If you are an incremental theorist, you believe that intelligence is fluid and can be changed…If, on the other hand, you are an entity theorist, you believe that intelligence cannot be changed, that it is given at birth and remains constant throughout life…If you believe yourself to be capable of improvement, believe that your mind can learn, can become better, can overcome setbacks, you are setting yourself—and your brain—up for exactly that path. And if you don’t? You may find yourself living in a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy, where you prove those elementary school teachers right simply by believing that what they say is the way things are—instead of.. challenging the very assumption at its core.”
The school teachers the author was referring to had made assumptions about students based on their IQ tests. If they had tested low on the IQ scale, they were placed at the back of the classroom, while those with high IQ were placed near the front. The kids perceived to be smart because of random test were give all of the advantages to learn more, while the kids perceived to be stupid were challenged less, and thus, learned less.
It is awfully hard to change mindsets that start at the youngest ages. If your parents and teachers think you are not going to be a successful student, then well, you probably won’t succeed academically. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t succeed in life, because the world is full of millionaires who didn’t do particularly well in school. But the power of the mindset does have under-rated control over how we do as a societal.
You can see the clash of mindsets in our political discussions.
President Obama’s mindset is that rich people don’t pay enough in taxes. He believes that Republicans care too much for the rich and that poor people don’t get enough from the government.
Paul Ryan’s mindset is that government is too big and spends too much money. He doesn’t think that balancing the budget by raising taxes is going to do anything to help shrink the size and power of government.
These two mindsets don’t interact well. The President thinks Paul Ryan’s plan is cruel and an example of “social Darwinism” and yes more than a bit radical. Ryan thinks the President is irresponsible.
You can see the clash of mindsets in the Trayvon Martin affair.
If you have a mindset that the police are racial-profilers who don’t protect the interests of the African-American community, you will not give them the benefit of the doubt on this case.
If, on the other hand, you have the mindset that the police are usually right in these types of cases, you are more likely to agree with their decision to not prosecute George Zimmerman. You are more likely to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt.
They dictate whether you succeed in life or in politics or not.
They dictate how we succeed as a society or not.
If you aren’t willing to listen to the others side of the argument and attempt to find common ground, if you believe what you believe and that is all that you will believe, it is awfully hard to make progress and grow.