Growth Mindsets Benefit Girls and Women in STEM

May 26, 2011

Why So Few? Chapter 2

Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, to put together an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s growth-mindset research findings are important for girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because encountering obstacles and challenging problems is in the nature of scientific work. In addition, girls have to cope with the stereotype that they are not as capable as boys in math and science.

If a girl with a fixed mindset encounters a challenging task or experiences a setback in math, she is more likely to believe the stereotype that girls are not as good as boys in math. On the other hand, if a girl believes that doing math is a skill that can be improved with practice, she thinks, in the words of Dweck, “OK, maybe girls haven’t done well historically, maybe we weren’t encouraged, maybe we didn’t believe in ourselves, but these are acquirable skills.” In the face of difficulty, girls with a growth mindset are more likely than girls with a fixed mindset to maintain their confidence and not succumb to stereotypes.

Interestingly, in cultures that produce a large number of math and science graduates – especially women – including South and East Asian cultures, the basis of success is generally attributed less to inherent ability and more to effort.

The more girls and women believe that they can develop the skills they need to be successful in STEM fields (as opposed to being “gifted”), the more likely they are to actually be successful in STEM fields. Dr. Dweck’s work demonstrates that girls benefit greatly from shifting their view of mathematics ability from “gift” to “learned skill.”

Thinking back, when I was in grade school, I had a pretty fixed mindset about math. Fortunately, I’d always been told I was good at math, so my fixed mindset didn’t hurt me at that point.

What about you? Did you think of your math skills as a gift when you were in grade school?

By:   |   May 26, 2011

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