A new study by researchers from Stanford and Yale-NUS college in Singapore examined implicit theories of interest. The study, titled Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It? and published in the journal Psychological Science, explored the differences between how growth mindsets and fixed mindsets affect learning, curiosity, and motivation.
The results suggest that actively developing your passion is better than seeking it and passively believing everything else will work out. According to the findings, those with a fixed mindset (meaning they believe passions are magically revealed to us) turned out to be less curious than those with a growth mindset (or those who believe in the process of developing their interests and passions).
Those with the growth mindset can better explore and develop their potentials, so telling someone to “find your passion” is not really advisable..
Yale-NUS college psychologist Paul O’Keefe, the lead researcher for the study, was quoted as saying:
“We need to carefully consider what we communicate to people about interests and passions. Parents, teachers, and employers might get the most out of people if they suggest that interests are developed, not simply found. Telling people to find their passion could suggest that it’s within you just waiting to be revealed. Telling people to follow their passion suggests that the passion will do the lion’s share of the work for you.”
Finding your passion is a passive approach, while developing it suggests a more active process.
The latter is also a more realistic way of thinking, according to O’Keefe.
For the study, three tests were done with college students who identified either as technology and science types or as art and literature types (but not both). There were assigned articles to study, and the materials covered areas outside their interests. The experiments showed that those with the growth mindset were more likely to find the articles interesting.
In a fourth experiment, students answered questions about the effects of passions and interests. The researchers found that “a fixed theory, more than a growth theory, leads people to anticipate that a passion will provide limitless motivation and that pursuing it will not be difficult.”
According to the researchers, a fixed mindset leads to a sharper decline in interest.
A fifth test had tech- and science-type and artistically inclined participants watch a short and engaging video on black holes. Almost all the subjects described the videos as “fascinating.” After that, they were asked to read a complicated scientific article on the theories behind black holes.
The researchers observed that even the artsy types who earlier exhibited a growth mindset were more likely to work through the tough text than the science types with a fixed mindset. The authors write:
“A growth theory…leads people to express greater interest in new areas, to anticipate that pursuing interests will sometimes be challenging, and to maintain greater interest when challenges arise.”
To encourage a growth mindset is therefore more favorable than advising someone to find their passion with a fixed perspective. O’Keefe said in an interview:
“Our work shows that a growth mindset increases interest in areas outside of students’ pre-existing interests. Furthermore, this newly developed interest does not appear to detract from their pre-existing interests. In other words, by encouraging a growth mindset, we don’t see evidence that students become dilettantes. Instead, they might be seeing connections among new areas and the interests they already have. That’s a powerful learning tool.”
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