I have blogged previously about Carol Dweck’s work on how beliefs about intelligence affect performance outcomes. A new paper from her lab demonstrates how having a fixed or entity like belief of intelligence (talent based) leads to poorer academic achievement as compared to students who have a incremental or malleable concept of intelligence (effort and skill based). I’ll let the authors themselves describe the two frameworks:

In this model , students may hold different ‘‘theories’’ about the nature of intelligence. Some believe that intelligence is more of an unchangeable, fixed ‘‘entity’’ (an entity theory). Others think of intelligence as a malleable quality that can be developed (an incremental theory). Research has shown that, even when students on both ends of the continuum show equal intellectual ability, their theories of intelligence shape their responses to academic challenge. For those endorsing more of an entity theory, the belief in a fixed, uncontrollable intelligence ‘a ‘‘thing’’ they have a lot or a little of’ orients them toward measuring that ability and giving up or withdrawing effort if the verdict seems negative. In contrast, the belief that ability can be developed through their effort orients those endorsing a more incremental theory toward challenging tasks that promote skill acquisition and toward using effort to overcome difficulty.

Relative to entity theorists, incremental theorists have been found (a) to focus more on learning goals (goals aimed at increasing their ability) versus performance goals (goals aimed at documenting their ability; (b) to believe in the utility of effort versus the futility of effort given difficulty or low ability (c) to make low-effort, mastery-oriented versus low-ability, helpless attributions for failure and (d) to display mastery-oriented strategies (effort escalation or strategy change) versus helpless strategies (effort withdrawal or strategy perseveration) in the face of setbacks. Thus, these two ways of thinking about intelligence are associated with two distinct frameworks, or ‘‘meaning systems’’ , that can have important consequences for students who are facing a sustained challenge at a critical point in their lives. It is important to recognize that believing intelligence to be malleable does not imply that everyone has exactly the same potential in every domain, or will learn everything with equal ease. Rather, it means that for any given individual, intellectual ability can always be further developed.

The paper presents two studies. In the first study young children entering 7th grade were measured on their theories of intelligences as well as assessed on different motivational factors. Their performance for a couple of years was monitored and the data was analysed to find the relationships between theory of intelligences and performance outcomes and also to determine the mediating motivational factors . The results are as follows :

The process model suggests multiple mediational pathways. That is, it suggests that

(a) learning goals mediate the relation between incremental theory and positive strategies,
(b) positive strategies mediate the relation between learning goals and increasing grades,
(c) effort beliefs mediate the relation between incremental theory and helpless attributions,
(d) effort beliefs mediate the relation between incremental theory and positive strategies,
(e) helpless attributions mediate the relation between effort beliefs and positive strategies,
(f) positive strategies mediate the relation between effort beliefs and increasing grades, and
(g) positive strategies mediate the relation between helpless attributions and increasing grades.

The second study involved an experimental intervention based approach. Those students who had declining grades were divided in two groups- an experimental one which got interventions that endowed them with a malleable and incremental theory of intelligence and a control group. This study found that grades improved for those in the experimental condition. Overall quite a cool research paradigm which has the tremendous potential to affect education as well as achievement outside of academics.

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