Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets

Psychol Sci. 2016 Jun;27(6):859-69. doi: 10.1177/0956797616639727. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


Children's intelligence mind-sets (i.e., their beliefs about whether intelligence is fixed or malleable) robustly influence their motivation and learning. Yet, surprisingly, research has not linked parents' intelligence mind-sets to their children's. We tested the hypothesis that a different belief of parents-their failure mind-sets-may be more visible to children and therefore more prominent in shaping their beliefs. In Study 1, we found that parents can view failure as debilitating or enhancing, and that these failure mind-sets predict parenting practices and, in turn, children's intelligence mind-sets. Study 2 probed more deeply into how parents display failure mind-sets. In Study 3a, we found that children can indeed accurately perceive their parents' failure mind-sets but not their parents' intelligence mind-sets. Study 3b showed that children's perceptions of their parents' failure mind-sets also predicted their own intelligence mind-sets. Finally, Study 4 showed a causal effect of parents' failure mind-sets on their responses to their children's hypothetical failure. Overall, parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children's performance and ability rather than on their children's learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.

Keywords: academic achievement; childhood development; educational psychology; motivation; open materials.