Ioakim Boutakidis, California State University Fullerton – Growth Mindset over Grit

It’s time to cultivate a growth mindset.

Ioakim Boutakidis, Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Studies at California State University, Fullerton, examines why mindset is more important than grit for student success.

Dr. Boutakidis is an Associate Professor, having received his Ph.D. in psychology from University of California, Riverside. His research has focused on cultural processes, such as ethnic identity and acculturation, and their associations to adolescent adjustment outcomes. More recently, his work has examined the role of engagement, motivation, and theory of mind in academic achievement outcomes for historically under-represented youth. His current work extends this line to college students, with a special focus on efforts to reduce achievement gaps, and he continues his on-going involvement in program assessment and High Impact Practices within the university.

Growth Mindset over Grit

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There’s no doubt we have reached a critical mass of research indicating the importance of so-called non-cognitive factors in predicting student outcomes. Theory of mind, persistence, engagement, and belongingness have all been determined to impact college students’ grades, retention and graduation rates.  However, two critical questions remain.  First, are these psycho-social variables malleable at the individual, student level? And second, can reliable and scalable interventions be created and implemented to do so? 

The answer to the first question appears to be yes for some of these factors, but it’s unclear for others. The work of Carol Dweck, Claude Steele, David Yeager, and others, has shown that rather simple interventions can promote a growth mindset, feelings of belongingness, and the belief that one can overcome supposed demographic fates.  On the other hand, it’s not clear that we can appreciably improve college student’s persistence and grit.  And this is an important point to make because as almost any college advisor, counselor, or assistant dean can attest to, campuses are awash with campaigns to spread the message of grit as promoting success, seemingly ignoring the fact that studies have yet to demonstrate any reliable and scalable way of increasing it. We’ve been here before. Research indicating that something is predictive of student success is often taken to mean that it’s a natural point of intervention, neglecting the middle steps of determining whether or not it is changeable, and whether those changes are causally related to the desired outcomes. The costly and wasted efforts of promoting self-esteem to improve academics in the 70s and 80s comes right to mind. 

Data has just begun to come in from wider scale interventions based on this new science of student success.  Specifically, we are beginning to move beyond the elite, highly selective institutions where many of these interventions were first piloted.  The early results are promising and seem to indicate that changing mindsets and attributions is easier than changing characteristics more related to personality.  And in the most hopeful accounts, these interventions are producing lasting changes in students and impacting traditionally at risk populations and reducing achievement gaps.

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