The fixed and growth theories of interest

Recently a study on theories of interest has been all over internet. The study by Yale-NUS and Stanford examined implicit theories of interest, fixed theory and growth theory. Here is what the paper says and my take on them.

Two Theories

Fixed theory means you believe your interest (or passion) is relatively fixed and destined. You need to find it. On the other hand, growth theory means you believe you can cultivate and develop your interest.

The paper claims that people believing fixed theory are easier to give up their interest when faced with obstacles. This is because they would “think it is not the right one”, whereas people who believe in developing interest would persevere and more likely to overcome the obstacles. The analogy that the paper gave was love. If two people believe in destined love, then would more likely give up when encountering relationship issues. However, if they believe love needs to be cultivated, they would be motivated to resolve the issues.

Digesting the claims

This part was initially a bit confusing to me. Is it saying those who believed in predestined interest are more likely to give up their interest? That sounds like a contraction. If I am determined that my passion in one area, why would I be more likely to give it up compared to someone else who doesn’t believe as strong as me? But then I realized that by believing that interest is fixed, it is not necessarily true that you will believe your current interest is “the fixed interest”. In fact, you will be more willing to give it up to find that “fixed interest” somewhere else when you encounter difficulties, because you would attribute the difficulties to the fact that this was not the “right interest”.

The growth theory is more problematic to me. If I believe in growth theory, does it mean that I would be willing to develop every new interest and not give up on any of them? It certainly sounds impractical to have a few hundred interests concurrently. But on the other hand, if I do give up some of them, that would mean I actually believe that those are not the “right interests”, which is supposed to mean that I believe in “fixed theory”. I guess the answer to that is people with growth theory will be less likely to give up than fixed theory. But then it becomes a question of where to draw the line and the distinction is not so clear cut.

My take on passion

For me, I tried to fit myself into one of those two theories, but I realized it would be hard. I do believe in some destined interests, but I don’t quit just because I find my current interest challenging.

Currently I have two interests, coding and photography. Coding is like the “fixed interest” to me. I have always treated it as “the interest for me” and enjoyed it since the very beginning. When I encounter difficulties though, I don’t just give up and find another interest, instead I try to develop myself further into it to become better. I guess that makes me “growth theory”? But on the hand I do believe coding is one the fixed interest for me.

Photography is the interest that I developed about a year ago. One day I decided that I want to shoot good photos and I have what it takes to become good, so I got started. Since then it just could not be stopped. I really enjoyed it and I just feel compelled to dedicate a few hours every weekend to go out and shoot. I still struggle to grow my audience on Instagram and not all people appreciate my work, but that did not stop me and I don’t feel like giving it up anytime soon.


So I guess theory is just theory, it can model people’s ideas but never fully describe each one of us. If I were to give my own theory on passion, I would say it’s a mix of both. I would start off interested in something at a very young age and that is one of the fixed interest. Over the course of life, I would try a lot of things. A lot of them will die in a few weeks, but a few of them would refuse to die and develop into real interest. Are those “fixed interests”? I don’t know.

Cover photo shot by me at Marina Barrage, Singapore.

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