Mindset, Motivation, and Metaphor in School and Sport: Bifurcated Beliefs and Behavior in Two Different Achievement Domains

By Jason R. Atwood.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 682.893KB).

Jason R. Atwood

Researcher and Instructor, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

Jason R. Atwood is an applied social scientist who works with practitioners, policy makers, and social entrepreneurs to develop, evaluate, and grow mission-based organizations in the areas of health and education. As a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, Jason examines the dynamic interplay between beliefs and behavior in domains that value high achievement. Some of his recent projects include a series of studies about how individuals conceptualize the development of their intellectual versus physical abilities, the construction of a computer-based learning center in rural Ethiopia, and the implementation of a city-wide youth-development policy in Washington, D.C.