SSC discussion: growth mindset

(Con­tin­u­ing the post­ing of se­lect posts from Slate Star Codex for com­ment here, as dis­cussed in this thread, and as Scott gave me—and any­one else—per­mis­sion to do with some ex­cep­tions.)

Scott Alexan­der re­cently posted about growth mind­set, with a clar­ifi­ca­tory fol­lowup post here. He dis­cussed some pos­si­ble weak­nesses of its ad­vo­cates—as well as their strength. Here’s a quote out­lin­ing the po­si­tions dis­cussed:

[Bloody Ob­vi­ous Po­si­tion]: in­nate abil­ity might mat­ter, but that even the most in­nate abil­i­tyed per­son needs effort to fulfill her po­ten­tial. If some­one were to be­lieve that suc­cess were 100% due to fixed in­nate abil­ity and had noth­ing to do with prac­tice, then they wouldn’t bother prac­tic­ing, and they would fall be­hind. [...]

[Some­what Con­tro­ver­sial Po­si­tion]: The more chil­dren be­lieve effort mat­ters, and the less they be­lieve in­nate abil­ity mat­ters, the more suc­cess­ful they will be. This is be­cause ev­ery iota of be­lief they have in effort gives them more in­cen­tive to prac­tice. A child who be­lieves in­nate abil­ity and effort both ex­plain part of the story might think “Well, if I prac­tice I’ll be­come a lit­tle bet­ter, but I’ll never be as good as Mozart. So I’ll prac­tice a lit­tle but not get my hopes up.” A child who be­lieves only effort mat­ters, and in­nate abil­ity doesn’t mat­ter at all, might think “If I prac­tice enough, I can be­come ex­actly as good as Mozart.” Then she will prac­tice a truly ridicu­lous amount to try to achieve fame and for­tune. This is why growth mind­set works.

[Very Con­tro­ver­sial Po­si­tion]: Belief in the im­por­tance of abil­ity di­rectly saps a child’s good qual­ities in some com­pli­cated psy­cholog­i­cal way. It is worse than merely be­liev­ing that suc­cess is based on luck, or suc­cess is based on skin color, or that suc­cess is based on what­ever other thing that isn’t effort. It shifts chil­dren into a mode where they must pro­tect their claim to ge­nius at all costs, whether that re­quires ly­ing, cheat­ing, self-sab­o­tag­ing, or just avoid­ing in­tel­lec­tual effort en­tirely. When a fixed mind­set child doesn’t prac­tice as much, it’s not be­cause they’ve made a ra­tio­nal calcu­la­tion about the util­ity of prac­tice to­wards achiev­ing suc­cess, it’s be­cause they’ve partly or en­tirely aban­doned suc­cess as a goal in fa­vor of the goal of try­ing to con­vince other peo­ple that they’re Smart.

Carol Dweck un­am­bigu­ously be­lieves the Very Con­tro­ver­sial Po­si­tion.