It was published in 2000 by Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, as part of a series called ESSAYS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, so I'm talking about a book that is already 16 years old. One of the author's findings is that "we can influence students' theories [about themselves and their intelligence]. Although students came to our study with their own theories, what we told them had a clear impact. This means that people's theories of intelligence are malleable." So students who initially believe their intelligence is fixed can come to believe they can increase it, and this means they will be willing to take on challenges they would otherwise avoid. They can learn to learn! The author carefully says that the studies do not show such changes in belief to be permanent, but the initial belief wasn't permanent, either. Human beings can learn, not simply through trial and error, but by coming to believe they have the capacity to grow.
She calls the two theories "entity" and "incremental." Entity theories think of intelligence as a fixed trait; incremental theorists (these "theorists" are all of us, at every age of life!) think of intelligence as knowledge and skill, something that can be cultivated and improved. The entity theorists are performance-oriented, and when they "fail," they fall into despair and helplessness, because to them failure is a sign that they are not smart, after all. Incremental theorists have a very different view of failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn, to employ new strategies, to try harder or focus differently, etc.
She doesn't stop there. She goes on to see if success and failure in relationships, and responses to perceived setbacks in relationships, follow the same pattern. She finds that they do. And then (I'm as yet only halfway through the book, and there are many, many studies conducted and cited), she finds that entity and incremental theorists not only judge themselves differently but judge others very differently, also. Entity theorists are quick to judge a person's character on the basis of a single action, but the author stresses that these quick judgments are not "impulsive," but "seem to grow out of a belief in character as a unitary thing that permeates virtually all actions and displays itself with great consistency."
The really great thing is that students in a classroom can, with appropriate readings, change from entity to incremental theorists. The author does not know if the change in belief would be long-lasting [results of research do not preclude but do not establish such a conclusion], but imagine retraining the thinking of people who work in prisons to believe that prisoners can learn and become better, more self-aware people!
...I have not tried to argue that anyone can become Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa, but I have tried to argue that we do not know what anyone’s future potential is from their current behavior. We never know exactly what someone is capable of with the right support from the environment and with the right degree of personal motivation or commitment. ... The danger of the entity theory is not so much that it argues for human limitation, but that it suggests we can know people’s limitations so quickly and then grants them so little potential for growth. I believe that people and society gain a great deal when we search for ways to help people realize their potential instead of labeling or punishing them when they do not.
Some years ago, as I reached one of the landmark ages, I asked myself what I would like to be able to say at the end of my life, and it was this: I want to be able to say that I kept my eyes open, faced my issues, and made wholehearted commitments to things I valued. I did not want to be haunted by a litany of regrets or left with a bundle of potentialities that were never realized. As adults in this society our mission is to equip the next generations with the tools they need to live a life of growth and contribution. Can we make the commitment to help them become smarter than we were?