Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention
Kali Trzesniewski & Carol Dweck
Published in 'Child Development', 78 (1) 246-263, 2007
This article details two empirical studies which look at adolescents beliefs about intelligence across a difficult transition period, from elementary to junior high school, and the relationship this has to maths achievement. The first study shows that a student?s theory of intelligence and the motivational framework surrounding this belief predicts achievement in maths over two years. The second experiment found that teaching students that intelligence is malleable, over eight 25 minutes sessions, can increase students motivational patterns and change their theory of intelligence from a fixed to a growth mindset ( the article refers to these as entity and incremental theory, respectively). In addition to this, explicitly teaching a growth mindset can improve maths scores for those with a fixed mindset
Study one is a longitudinal study which tracked 373 Junior high school pupil?s over a period of 2 years, following the transition from elementary school to junior high school. The researchers wanted to find out if a student?s belief about intelligence would predict their scores in mathematics and what motivational framework might support this process.
The researchers collected each student national achievement score for maths, which was taken before the transition. This was so that they could correlate the score with other variables such as the child?s theory of intelligence. Maths scores were then taken at various intervals over the two years, these scores were based on tests, homework and maths participation. At the beginning of Junior High School the researchers measured each student?s belief about intelligence. They also measured other key motivational variables i.e. learning goals, effort beliefs, low helpless responses to failure and positive strategies. These variable were measured so that the researchers could test the motivational framework surrounding each theory of intelligence e.g. does someone with a growth mindset create goals for learning and are they less prone to helpless responses after failure? The prediction was that these variables will facilitate the success in maths of people adopting a growth mindset. All students took the same maths class with the same teacher. The researchers analysed scores from four waves of pupils.
When analysing the data, there were no differences between maths scores between those with a fixed and a growth mindset at the beginning of Junior High School. The authors suggest that this is because the different and diverging achievement patterns emerge during a challenging transition. Following this reasoning, it was found that the maths scores from these two groups gradually pulled apart over the two year period, those who endorsed a growth mindset doing better. The researchers found that school students who believed that intelligence was malleable endorsed learning goals more strongly and were more likely to believe that working hard was necessary and effective in achievement, than those who thought intelligence was fixed. People with growth beliefs were less likely to make ability based, helpless attributions when faced with the prospect of setback. In conclusion this study showed that the different patterns of responses to challenge and difficulty were reflected in significant discrepancies in the actual performance of students, and that these are directly related to mindset.
Study two replicated the test of motivational framework described in study one, with a smaller sample of lower achieving students and over a shorter time. The findings were consistent with the previous study. In addition, this study taught an incremental theory to half of the classroom, over a period of 8 weeks: one 25 minute session once a week. The researchers wanted to see if teaching people that intelligence is malleable would motivate the students, and encourage them to put in extra effort in the classroom? They also wanted to find out if students in the ?growth mindset training? group would achieve more highly than those who had only been taught useful skills and not about the theory.
The same scales were used to measure student?s belief about intelligence and motivational components, as were used in study 1. Maths scores were taken at baseline and at the end of the intervention. The intervention involved one study group and one control group all session were the same for both groups except week 3-4 and week 7-8. The intervention group and the Control group were taught about the brain over two sessions i.e. the Structure and Function. In week 3 and 4 the experimental group, only, were taught about how to ?grow your own intelligence? and ?how learning makes your brain smarter? while the control group were given memory lessons and mnemonics strategies to learn. Both groups experienced the same classes for week 5 ? 6 on anti stereotyping and study skills. Then during week 7 ? 8 only the experimental group had a discussion on how learning makes you smarter and why labels i.e. smart/dumb, should be avoided. The control group had a discussion on academic difficulties and successes, preferences; memory and the brain.
The researchers found that those endorsing a fixed mindset had higher scores in maths after the intervention when compared to the control group, this effect was marginal. The sample size was small and so the researchers suggest that there needs to be a larger scale intervention to determine the effect. Those who endorsed a fixed mindset and who were in the control group showed a downward trajectory, their scores got worse over time.
In conclusion, this study demonstrates that a student who endorses a belief that intelligence is malleable, proved to do better in maths than those who did not and that this lasts over time. This research also showed that those with a fixed mindset do worse in maths over time. The findings are explained by a motivational framework which supports the growth mindset and which was also measured in this study i.e. People adopting a growth mindset are more likely to endorse learning goals, and are more likely to believe that working hard was necessary and effective in achievement, than students with fixed beliefs. In turn, those endorsing learning goals and positive effort beliefs were more likely to make less ability-based attributions, helpless attributions when faced with setback, than those with a fixed mindset. The findings show that teaching a growth mindset can improve performance, and that more studies are required to examine this further.
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