It’s the thought that counts in Psych 12N: Self Theories

Oct. 20, 2014, 4:25 p.m.

Students are learning to be mindful of their mindsets in PSYCH 12N: Self Theories, an Introductory Seminar aimed at freshmen and taught by Carol S. Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology.

The class, which Dweck has taught since 2005, mainly revolves around the concept of different mindsets — mental frames through which one views his or her experiences.

“Let’s say you don’t do so well on an exam, and you might be very disheartened; so someone with a fixed mindset would say, oh well I’m guess I’m just not smart enough, like why do you even bother,” said Ricardo Flores ’17, who took the course last year.

On the first day of class, Dweck told the students to view Stanford not as a place for competition but rather as a place for personally making the most of the resources available at the university.

“I tell them, don’t be intimidated by these other incredible students here, even if they’re more advanced than you now in your field, because every person has a unique contribution to make, based on their backgrounds, their interests,” Dweck said.

“So, because someone may get more A’s than you in their subject, or it might be easier for them — it doesn’t take away from your potential contribution,” she added.

After exploring the concept of growth and fixed mindsets, the students focus on applying these mental frames to various topics each week, which include sports, parenting and education.

The topics for the classes are based on the chapters of Dweck’s book “Mindset” and research papers that are related to each chapter. After class discussions, the students also turn in low-stress weekly essays, which range from writing about personal struggles to what mindset you will have to achieve your goals in the future.

“And inevitably, they write about the struggles — they find many struggles,” Dweck said.

Some of the assignments have real-world applications, such as helping people understand the benefits of certain mindsets.  Flores used one such assignment as an impetus to push past his shyness in a major way.

“One of the assignments was actually a challenge to get out of our comfort zone and something that maybe might help us advocate for a growth mindset,” Flores said. “So based on that I decided to use her techniques and I decided to run for dorm government president, and I happened to be one of two people elected for my freshman dorm.”

Although the class only lasts a quarter, both the professor and students report that the class has had an impact on their overall experience at Stanford.

“It’s sort of like the class shifts your lens,” said Joseph Lee ’17, who took the course last year. “I think it’s that the class gives you a new set of lenses with which you can look at the world.”

Every week, The Stanford Daily will be spotlighting a unique, popular or otherwise interesting course for a recurring series called Classy Classes.

Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’

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