Students believing intelligence can be developed perform better

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Research on how junior high school students' beliefs about intelligence affect their math grades found that those who believed that intelligence can be developed performed better than those who believed intelligence is fixed.

The findings come from two studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Stanford University, and are published in the January/February 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

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One study looked at 373 12-year-olds over two years of junior high school. Although all students began the study with equivalent achievement levels in math, students who believed that their intelligence could be developed outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed. Furthermore, the researchers found, the gap between these two groups widened over the two-year period.

Researchers concluded that the difference between the two sets of students stems from the fact that students who believed their intelligence could be developed placed a higher premium on learning, believed more in the power of effort, and had more constructive reactions to setbacks in school.

A second study looked at 91 12-year-olds in two groups, both of whom had shown declines in their math grades. One group was taught the expandable theory of intelligence as part of an eight-session workshop on study skills. Another group participated in the same workshop, but did not receive information on the expandable intelligence qualities of the brain. The students who learned about the intelligence theory reversed their decline and showed significantly higher math grades than their peers in the other group, whose grades continued to decline.

"These findings highlight the importance of students' beliefs for their academic progress," said Carol Dweck, one of the researchers and professor of psychology at Stanford University. "They also show how these beliefs can be changed to maximize students' motivation and achievement."

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