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Giftedness: Bestowed or Earned? Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset

Updated on May 24, 2008
Photo: walkinggeek,Flickr
Photo: walkinggeek,Flickr

Some people are born gifted, and others are not. True or false? The word gifted is loaded. It seems to suggest that intelligence or talent is something you're born with. It is often assumed that children are gifted through no effort of their own. The most dangerous part of this attitude is the assumption that a so-called gifted mind will continue to flourish with no effort on the part of the child.

According to leading personality researcher Carol S. Dweck, PhD, intelligence and talent are developed through passion, learning, and persistence. When parents and teachers convey the message that challenges are fun, effort is satisfying, and mistakes and failures are valuable, children will benefit. They will know that being identified as gifted means they have the opportunity to develop their talents fully.

What Made Einstein Special?

Motivation is now recognized as a key ingredient for exceptional achievement. Researchers are now finding that creative genius is nurtured from the ability to sustain intense commitment for extended lengths of time in the face of obstacles. Well-known geniuses like Edison and Einstein were bright children who became obsessed with something and therefore were able to sustain the concentration it took to make enormous contributions.

We always think of Mozart composing masterpieces as a child, but the truth is he didn't produce original works of any particular merit until after over ten years of near constant composing. Brilliant musicians are said to be different from their equally talented peers because of their devotion and practice, not innate natural potential.

The idea that full-blown creative contributions emerge effortlessly or naturally from talented and gifted individuals has all but been debunked by researchers who suggest that these great contributions are instead the product of passion, learning, and persistence.


It's All In Your Head


In 30 years of research Dweck has found that students' beliefs about the nature of their intelligence is an important determinant to their level of passion and commitment, their overall desire to learn.

Students with a fixed mindset believe they have a certain amount of intelligence and that's that. These students worry about the quantity of intelligence they have and are often afraid to make mistakes and reveal inadequacies. (If you have a gifted child at home you know this can be a big problem!) These kids may worry that failures will demonstrate the original gifted determination was undeserved. Therefore, this fixed mindset causes kids to try to prove themselves over and over. They also tend to avoid situations where they don't know exactly what is expected. Perfectionism is common in gifted children.

Students with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence can be developed over time through their own effort. They know that while not everyone has the same intelligence, everyone can learn and become smarter. The growth mindset helps children focus on their efforts. They are free to concentrate on becoming smarter rather than looking smart.


The Attitude Against Effort

To nurture the growth mindset, parents need to combat the idea that many gifted children have that effort is a bad thing. They think that working hard at something means you have low ability. The believe that if they have ability, everything should come easily. Therefore, even if they are extremely talented, many things worthwhile, including the development of talent, requires sustained effort. For students with a fixed mindset, effort can make them feel dumb.

A common scenario is the very bright student who stops working when school becomes difficult. During early school years, high grades cam easy with little exertion. Sooner or later they need effort to do well.


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  • profile image

    LTyler 9 years ago

    Hi Lela,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, thanks very much.

  • solarshingles profile image

    solarshingles 9 years ago from london

    Dear Lela, a very good Hub about this very challenging topic of intelligence and being gifted! I have a brother, who is very intelligent and I could have experienced how these genius people are not 'used' at all for solving a real problems in any society. What was very hard or almost impossible for me to understand or to learn (and I was good at school), was just a minute game for him to master. However, he was constantly bullied by teachers, because he far superseded their own abilities, even though he had been very quiet at all times. Once, his professor even kicked him out of the national chess competition, due to his 'underage', even though he could play chess with international masters on 25 tables at once only in his mind. After that, he has never wanted to play chess, anymore. Today, he is keeping very low profile, constantly travel all over the world and just here and there solve some computer problems. I don't blame the society. I think it is up to each family and parents at the first instance. The problem is where to get all the knowledge needed to plan an optimal path.

    Thank you for pointing us to some right addresses about this topic.

  • donnaleemason profile image

    donnaleemason 9 years ago from North Dakota, USA

    My six yr old is having trouble understanding that it is ok to make mistakes as long as she learns from them.