Study Finds Black Students Are More Successful When Professors Believe Intelligence is Malleable

A recent study from social psychologists at Indiana University has found that STEM students, especially students from underrepresented groups, are more successful when their professors believe intelligence is a malleable quality that can be improved over time.

To conduct the study, the research team collected data on 150 faculty and 15,000 students over a two-year period at a large public research university. The results found that all students did better on average in classes taught by faculty with more of a growth mindset. In a fixed-mindset classroom, Black students earned 0.19 fewer GPA points than White students, but only 0.10 fewer GPA points in growth-mindset classrooms. The study also found that faculty mindset beliefs predicted the racial achievement gaps in their classes more than any other variable, including the faculty member’s gender, race, age, tenure status, or teaching experience.

Mary Murphy, a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, was the principal investigator of this study. Her lab is currently working in collaboration with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at the university to create educational modules for first-time university instructors that review the influence of faculty mindset beliefs on student outcomes and provide evidence-based practices that convey growth-mindset beliefs to students in the classroom. She and collaborators have also developed an institute in the Seattle area that trains K-6 teachers to create growth-mindset cultures in their classrooms.

“The overall message here is quite optimistic,” Dr. Murphy said. “It’s clear that helping faculty understand how to employ growth-mindset practices in their teaching could help thousands of students. After all, faculty set the culture of their classroom; they are the culture creators. This work shows professors have the power to shape students’ motivation, engagement and performance through the mindset culture they create. We need to educate faculty about how their beliefs shape students’ motivation and performance and give them tools to support students in the classroom.”

The full study, “STEM Faculty Who Believe Ability Is Fixed Have Larger Racial Achievement Gaps and Inspire Less Student Motivation in Their Classes,” was published in the journal Science Advances. It may be accessed here.

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  1. Do the study authors discuss the extent to which these fixed mindsets are informed by implicit biases having to do with race and gender? I am not convinced that a ‘growth’ mindset is a counterweight to racist ideology and belief. The article says “but only .10 fewer GPA points…” Why is that result even acceptable? We should be happy that Black students just a little less bias? How about no bias at all? Too many of these researchers go far out of their way to avoid addressing the realities of Black students’ racialized experiences. Growth mindset, grit, etc. are all very comfortable intellectual spaces for these researchers. These ideas are woefully lacking in their explanatory power. Their mindsets are fixed on avoiding race and racial bias.

  2. Education is an universal human right, an excellent and progressive education and the best resources, and teachers must be provided for every child in the world. Our young people, will shape the future of the world for the better or for the worst.

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