The Impact of Faculty Attitudes About Intelligence

A new study suggests that faculty members’ attitudes about intelligence can have a major impact on the success of students in science, mathematics and technology courses. Students see more achievement when their instructors believe in a “growth mind-set” about intelligence than they do learning from those who believe intelligence is fixed. The impact was found across all student groups but was most pronounced among minority students.

The study — by brain science scholars at Indiana University at Bloomington — was published in the journal Science Advances and presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The researchers collected data on 150 faculty members in a range of STEM disciplines and 15,000 students over two years at a large public research university that is not identified. Faculty members were asked to respond to a general statement about intelligence along the lines of “To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can’t do much to change it.”

The study then looked at student performance in courses taught by those who agreed with that perspective and those who did not.

The article argues that the faculty attitudes about intelligence carry over into the messages faculty members send to students, with those who believe in fixed intelligence suggesting to students that only the “innately gifted” are likely to succeed. Those who believe in intelligence growth are more likely, the article says, to share techniques with students on how they can become better learners.

“Faculty beliefs about which students ‘have’ ability in STEM might constitute a greater barrier for [underrepresented minority] students because fixed mind-set beliefs may make group ability stereotypes salient, creating a context of stereotype threat,” the paper says. “Recent research suggests that when stigmatized students expect to be stereotyped by fixed mind-set institutions, they experience less belonging, less trust and more anxiety and become less interested, suggesting that fixed mind-set faculty might also engender these adverse outcomes among students.”

For more commentary, see https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/02/18/study-links-faculty-attitudes-intelligence-student-success-stem-large-impact
For the full research study, see http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau4734

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