The Atlantic carried an article on the research by Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Psychology) Paul A O’Keefe and his colleagues, which showed that those who endorse a “fixed theory” about interest tend to think of it as something already there that simply needs to be found, and are therefore unlikely to stray beyond the interests they already have. By contrast, those with a “growth theory” tend to believe that interests can be developed and cultivated. Thus, the common advice to “find your passion” supports a fixed theory and may eventually be limiting. Dr O’Keefe collaborated with Stanford University Professor Carol S Dweck, a psychologist known for her work in fixed and growth theories, as well as Associate Professor Gregory M Walton, also from Stanford.
Dr O’Keefe highlighted that the consequence of such an advice is that people may give up on something once it becomes difficult, dismissing it as not being their passion after all. The researchers referred to this as the misconception that once you have found your passion, there would be “endless motivation” Instead of “finding” your passion, the researchers suggest that people should “develop” their passion.
The Straits Times (ST) and Lianhe Zaobao (LHZB) also covered the news after interviewing Dr O’Keefe. ST noted that the research may have implications for the Singapore education scene. Citing the example of students in junior college where they have to choose between arts or science specialisations, Dr O’Keefe says that this may have implications on their perception of their intellect and interests, as they could interpret it as “I’ve been told by a test that I’m good at this, therefore this is what I’m going to do’”. LHZB noted Dr O’Keefe’s views that Singapore’s education scene is moving in the right direction, with the expansion of more interdisciplinary courses in local universities and introduction of contrasting subjects at A-levels. However, the key issue is whether students have the right mindset to fully take advantage of these opportunities. Dr O’Keefe highlighted that in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, which values interdisciplinary knowledge, relying on only a single skill set could hinder one’s career development or ability to innovate. If students are given the tools to cultivate multiple interests, this could help them develop the skills to draw connections across different areas of knowledge. LHZB added that for the past two years, Dr O’Keefe has been researching the impact of fixed and growth theories of interest in Singapore schools, as well as how teaching students to develop a growth theory can improve their learning and achievement. The research is ongoing and it will take some time before the results can be shared.