Having a positive mindset in math may do more than just help students feel more confident about their skills and more willing to keep trying when they fail; it may prime their brains to think better.
In an ongoing series of experiments at Stanford University, neuroscientists have found more efficient brain activity during math thinking in students with a positive mindset about math.
The researchers focused on math because other studies have found that a student’s mindset can be different for different domains—he or she could believe that reading ability can be improved but that skill at soccer is innate, for example—and math is a subject often associated with a fixed mindset.
Stanford University postdoctoral fellow in cognitive psychology and neuroscience Lang Chen and his colleagues found that students with higher positive-mindset levels in math were more accurate at identifying correct and incorrect math problems, even after controlling for differences in IQ, age, working memory, reading ability, and math anxiety.
A lower positive-mindset level was likewise associated with lower math performance.