A new way to combat
Stanford University researcher Carol S. Dweck has found a way to
change people’s minds to reduce prejudice and bullying.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
In more than 25 years of research, psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD, has shown that we have more potential to succeed at our goals than we think — as long as we have
the right frame of mind.
In particular, she’s found that people who believe that their academic success is the result of effort and learning are much more
likely to take on new tasks — and hence to grow academically
and intellectually — than those who believe their accomplishments are based on something that’s “fixed”: innate ability.
Further, she’s found, if people are guided to change their
mindsets — from believing that intelligence is fixed to believing
that it is malleable — they start to perform better and are more
open to challenges.
In an invited address at APA’s 2011 Annual Convention,
Dweck talked about how she’s applying those findings to two
new social domains: bullying and prejudice.
In both areas, she and colleagues are finding that some
people do hold fixed ideas — for example, the belief that some
people are bullies by nature or are innately prejudiced — but
that they can be primed to change those attitudes and their
resulting behaviors in ways that benefit themselves and others.
“If so much about who we are is about the mindsets we hold,
that’s good news, because beliefs can be changed,” she said.
Her work suggests that current interventions for reducing
stereotypes and prejudice may not be enough, she added.
“Reducing stereotyping and facilitating intergroup
interaction is also about making people realize that prejudice is
not a fixed trait, that it’s something that can be changed.”
Open to change
In the realm of bullying, Dweck, Stanford graduate student
David S. Yeager and colleagues are looking at whether young
people’s mindsets about bullies and victims can be changed in
ways that improve their emotional state and the larger school
In preliminary work to test that concept published in
the July issue of Developmental Psychology (Vol. 47, No. 4),
the researchers found that some adolescents do have fixed
mindsets toward bullies and victims, strongly endorsing such
notions as “bullies will always be bullies” and “everyone is
either a winner or a loser in life.” When those same young
people read scenarios in which bullies excluded others, they
strongly agreed that bullies deserved to be punished and that
they would never forgive the bully. The team then had the
young people read an article about how people are capable
of change. Students who read it were less likely to prescribe
revenge for bullies and more likely to endorse confrontation or
education, the team found.
Based on that research, Yeager created a workshop designed
to help students understand that people can grow and change.