The belief that a trait can be cultivated with effort, known as an incremental theory or growth mindset, promotes behavior that leads to higher levels of achievement, such as the enthusiastic embrace of challenges and resilience to obstacles. Roughly 40% of the general student population in the United States, however, conceptualizes intelligence as an innate and immutable trait, a belief that is the outcome of an entity theory or fixed mindset that tends to inhibit motivation and learning. To better inculcate an incremental theory of intelligence, educators and psychologists should identity traits that a majority of students believe are malleable, and investigate the dynamics that facilitate optimism about their developmental potential. In service to this end, the present study illuminates a bifurcation of both belief and behavior related to student engagement in the domains of school and sport. A survey of 251 middle school students confirmed two hypotheses: individuals are significantly more likely (a) to have a growth mindset of athletic ability compared to intelligence, and (b) to exhibit mastery-oriented responses in athletic versus academic environments. The organizational infrastructure of athletic programs, which institutionalizes practice, emphasizes effort, and values the coach as a developmental expert, is thought to powerfully cultivate the idea of athletic ability as a malleable trait—and offers clues about how to design educational interventions that increase the number of students who believe intelligence is something they can improve with effort.
|Keywords:||Self-theories, Implicit Beliefs, Motivation, Mindset, Intelligence, School, Sport, Goal Orientation|
Researcher and Instructor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA