When psychology Professor Carol Dweck was a sixth-grader at P.S. 153 in Brooklyn, N.Y., she experienced something that made her want to understand why some people view intelligence as a fixed trait while others embrace it as a quality that can be developed and expanded.
Dweck's teacher that year, Mrs. Wilson, seated her students around the room according to their IQ. The girls and boys who didn't have the highest IQ in the class were not allowed to carry the flag during assembly or even wash the blackboard, Dweck said. "She let it be known that IQ for her was the ultimate measure of your intelligence and your character," she said. "So the students who had the best seats were always scared of taking another test and not being at the top anymore."
Asked what seat number Dweck occupied during that memorable year, the professor paused, and silently raised her right index finger. "But it was an uncomfortable thing because you were only as good as your last test score," she said. "I think it had just as negative an effect on the kids at the top [as those at the bottom] who were defining themselves in those terms."
From that experience, Dweck became fascinated with intelligence, convinced that IQ tests are not the only way to measure it. "I also became very interested in coping with setbacks, probably because being in that classroom made me so concerned about not slipping, not failing," she said.
Dweck, a soft-spoken, elegantly attired woman, joined Stanford's faculty in 2004 as the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor. Before that, she taught at Columbia for 15 years, as well as at Harvard and the University of Illinois. A native New Yorker, Dweck earned a bachelor's degree from Columbia and a doctorate in psychology from Yale.
According to Dweck, people's self-theories about intelligence have a profound influence on their motivation to learn. Students who hold a "fixed" theory are mainly concerned with how smart they are
Contact: Lisa Trei