Study: Perception of Intelligence Matters More Than Intelligence Itself

February 11, 2015

How students perceive intelligence may matter more than intelligence itself.

In research conducted by social psychologist Carol Dweck, students who believe that intelligence is innate and fixed are more likely to pass up future learning opportunities and avoid challenges.

But here’s the good news: students’ beliefs of their intelligence can be changed and influenced in ways that empower them to take opportunities to learn something new.

Dweck came to this conclusion in a study with fifth-grade students. After randomly divided students into two groups, she presented them with a paragraph to read. One group received a passage illustrating how famous individuals such as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein developed intelligence that allowed them to succeed. The other group received a passage that attributed Keller and Einstein’s successes to innate qualities.

Later in the study, students chose an activity to do. Two of the choices were designed to make students look smart, allowing them to avoid making mistakes and perform the task well. The other activity gave students a challenge, presenting an opportunity to learn something new. Students who read the paragraph demonstrating innate intelligence were more likely to choose an activity that made them look smart, while those who read the passage demonstrating acquired intelligence were more likely to take up a challenge.

Want to help students rethink their intelligence? Here are a few resources to bring into your classroom:

  1. Show Eduardo Bricenos’ TEDx Talk “The Power of Belief: Mindset and Success” during class.
  2. Childrens’ books are a great way to teach the growth mindset. Some great ones include: The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka, and Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by Joann Deak.
  3. Thomas Edison, Oprah Winfrey, and Walt Disney are only a few examples of people who struggled and failed many times before reaching success. Share their stories with your students.
  4. Check out this Growth Mindset Pinterest Board for more ideas!

How do you encourage students to pursue new opportunities? Share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

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