Research on Mindset & Intrapersonal Competencies

Review research on Mindset, Intrapersonal Competencies, the Big Five Personality Traits, and Related Competencies & Dispositions


Below is a summary of research on Mindset and Intrapersonal Competencies where

  • Mindset concerns a person’s way of thinking. For instance, people could be described as having a growth or fixed mindset. Or someone could be said to have an optimistic or pessimistic mindset.
  • Intrapersonal Competencies refers to “self-management and the ability to regulate one’s behavior and emotions to reach goals” (National Research Council 2012).

Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, conducted foundational research on mindset and intrapersonal competencies in the late 1980s to the present, explores the hypothesis that students’ attitudes about learning and talent dramatically predict their success or failure:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it”

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Many of the traits Dweck associated with a Growth Mindset have been explored by other disciplinary communities (e.g., Psychology or Education) using different terms. Not surprisingly, metacognition, Intellectual openness, curiosity, emotional resilience and self-regulation have fascinated scientists, social scientists, and humanists for generations. 

  1. Humanities Research
    The “Psyche” of the writer (or “Temperament” or “Character”) has been a popular theme in the humanities. One excellent example of this is the Paris Review, a literary magazine that has been interviewing writers and poets. Since the 1950s, thousands of interviews have been conducted of successful writers. Typically the interviews address the artists’ creative processes and habits of mind.
  2. Workplace Readiness Research
    Behaviors such as “Work Ethic” or the ability to reflect on learning (“Metacognition”) or Self-Regulate behavior to achieve goals are called “Soft Skills” in Adult Education and the Workforce Readiness literature. Sometimes these traits are called “Professionalism.” In its annual survey of the most prized workforce readiness competencies, NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) found employers rank Professionalism/Work Ethic as the third most important workforce competency (after Critical Thinking and Collaboration).
  3. STEM Education Research
    The National Research Council (NRC) refers to these traits as 21st Century Competencies: “Intrapersonal competencies involve self-management and the ability to regulate one’s behavior and emotions to reach goals” (2012).
  4. Developmental Psychology & Learning Theorists
    Since the 1960s, cognitive psychologists have working to identify traits that define personality. Over the years, they have identified five traits that predict why some people succeed or continue trying in the face obstacles while others give up. Three of the these traits play a foundational role in the Mindset literature:
    • Openness to Experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
    • Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)
    • Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident).
  5. Learning Theorists
    Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award, has developed a scale to measure “Grit” and associated this trait as a predictor of success. Grit is most similar to Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). Duckworth’s research determined that Grit was a better measure of success than IQ

Research in Writing Studies on Mindset & Intrapersonal Competencies.

In the context of empirical research in the field of Writing Studies, intrapersonal competencies have been undertheorized. In the early 1980s George H. Jensen and John K. DiTiberio’s used empirical and formalist methods in conjunction with  Jung’s personality construct as a theoretical frame to research composing behaviors. Yet that scholarly conversation withered on the vine as the field of Writing Studies was preoccupied in the 1980s and 90s with post-process, postmodernism, cultural theory, literacy theory, and multimodal composition. One notable exception outside the field of Writing Studies, was Robert Boice, a cognitive psychologist who conducted empirical research on the benefits of daily writing.

However, from the context of personal anecdote, teacher research, case study, or qualitative research, Writing Studies has long been interested in intrapersonal competencies even if that scholarship was not officially subsumed under the umbrella of that term. Historically, different Communities of Practice (Fiction Writers, Teacher-Researchers,, and Expressivists have been curious about the habits, attitudes, and strategies of successful writers. For example, based on his experience as a graduate student, Peter Elbow wrote eloquently about his personal discovery of the power of freewriting. Sondra Pearl explored ways writers work with “felt sense”–an inchoate, prelinguistic feeling about what one was trying to say. Some qualitative researchers have followed small groups of students throughout their college courses , e.g. Carroll, 2002; Beaufort, 2007; Ebest 2005; Wardle, 2009; Fraiberg, 2010; Nowacek, 2011; Driscoll & Wells, 2012; Wardle & Roozen, 2012). And recently there has been a great deal of interest  in using interviews, surveys, and observations of writers and their texts to better understand the role of self-regulation and self efficacy on writing and the transfer of learning.


At Writing Commons, we are eager to publish research and theory on Mindset & Intrapersonal Competencies. Please see Contribute to learn about how you can collaborate with us and help students along the way.

Works Cited

Beaufort, A. (2007). College writing and beyond: A new framework for university writing instruction. Logan, Utah: Utah University Press.

Carrol, L. A. (2002). Rehearsing new roles: How college students develop as writers. SIU Press.

Driscoll, D. L., & Wells, J. (2012). Beyond knowledge and skills: Writing transfer and the role of student dispositions in and beyond the writing classroom.

Ebest, S. B. (2005). Changing the way we teach: Writing and resistance in the training of  teaching assistants. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

National Association of Colleges and Employers.  (2019). 2019 Job Report. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers.

National Research Council of the National Academies. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017). Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

Nowacek, R. S. (2011). Agents of integration: Understanding transfer as a rhetorical act. Carbondale, IL.: Southern Illinois University Press.

Wardle, E., & Roozen, K. (2012). Addressing the complexity of writing development: Toward an ecological model of assessment. Assessing Writing, 17(2), 106.