Mental muscularity: shaping implicit theories of intelligence via metaphor

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Anderson, Scott Victor

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Motivating students is a central challenge for many teachers, particularly in subjects students commonly perceive as “impenetrable,” such as statistics. One line of motivation research by C.S. Dweck (2006) has found that when students believe their intelligence is malleable (i.e., a growth mindset) and that learning is a function of effort, they show greater motivation, accept more learning challenges, and have improved performance outcomes relative to students who believe their intelligence is fixed (e.g., “I’m not a math person”). This dissertation extends research regarding implicit theories of intelligence by examining how metaphors of the growth mindset (e.g., the mind is a muscle) can be integrated as feedback into a computer program to encourage students to implicitly adopt the growth mindset relevant to statistics. The present study manipulated framing conditions with metaphorical, literal, and no feedback about the growth mindset. Results show that framing feedback implicitly in terms of the “mind as muscle” metaphor increased non-math major undergraduates’ willingness to accept learning challenges and their overall score on testing items relevant to statistical literacy, as compared to students who received literal feedback or no feedback about the growth mindset. Also, overall, gender differences were noted, with males accepting more learning challenges, passing on fewer difficult items, and having higher scores on testing items than females. Findings also indicate that participants’ psychological reactance and interest in fitness and muscularity (metaphor resonance) did not meaningfully change participants’ learning outcomes.



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