Faculty beliefs about intelligence predict racial achievement gaps in STEM classes

February 15, 2019, Indiana University
A study by Indiana University social psychologists has found that faculty mindsets play a measurable role in student success in science, technology, engineering and math, especially among underrepresented minority students. Credit: Indiana University

In a major analysis of university faculty and students in science, technology, engineering and math, Indiana University social psychologists found that professors' beliefs about intelligence play a measurable role in the success of all students—with the strongest effects for underrepresented students taking their first college-level STEM courses.

The results of the study, published in the journal Science Advances, were presented Feb. 15 during a press conference at the 2019 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

The principal investigator and senior author on the research is Mary Murphy, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The first author is Elizabeth Canning, a postdoctoral researcher in Murphy's lab.

"In a universitywide sample, we found that STEM professors who believe that ability and talent are malleable have smaller racial achievement gaps in their classes," Canning said. "All students—and black, Latino and Native American students in particular—earn significantly higher grades in STEM courses when their professors believe intelligence is a malleable quality that can be developed over time, compared to when their professors believe intelligence is a fixed trait that cannot change very much."

To conduct the study, the researchers collected data on 150 and 15,000 students over two years at a large public research university.

"What we found was that the between underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students—compared to white and Asian students—was nearly twice as large in classes taught by instructors who endorsed more of a fixed ," Murphy said.

Black, Latino and Native American students earned 0.19 fewer GPA points in fixed-mindset classrooms compared to white or Asian students. This gap shrank nearly in half—to 0.10 fewer GPA points—in growth-mindset classrooms.

Moreover, the researchers found that all students did better on average in classes taught by faculty who endorsed more of a growth mindset, but this relationship was much stronger for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

Classroom practices and behaviors that convey either a fixed or a growth mindset have been identified by Murphy and colleagues' previous research. For example, faculty who endorse fixed-mindset beliefs tend to prize flawless performance, while faculty who endorse growth-mindset beliefs tend to value and praise the process of learning, and use mistakes as learning opportunities.

"Some faculty explicitly communicate their fixed mindset—suggesting that if students do not understand the material quickly, they may not do well and should consider dropping the course," Murphy said. "On the other hand, some faculty communicate a growth mindset by regularly providing students feedback and opportunities to self-assess and reflect on their learning—instead of offering only a few high-stakes challenges to prove their ability."

The study also found that students taught by faculty who endorse a growth mindset reported more positive experiences in class and greater motivation. However, they did not report that the classes were easier or less-time consuming than others.

"Students in growth-mindset classrooms reported being 'motivated to do their best work' and felt their instructor really cared about their learning and development in classes," Canning said. "This isn't about being friendlier or going easier on students; it's about focusing on the learning process, rather than innate fixed ability."

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.

The researchers did not ask professors whether they believe intelligence is determined by students' race or gender, however. Instead, faculty were asked to endorse general statements about the fixedness or malleability of intelligence. (e.g., "To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can't do much to change it").

"Younger and older faculty—as well as male and female professors from any racial-ethnic background—were equally likely to endorsed fixed ideas about intelligence," Murphy said.

The upshot? "We're not going to see fixed mindsets disappear as we turn over a new generation of professors," she said. "We've got to educate faculty about how their beliefs shape students' motivation and performance and give them tools to support students in the classroom."

Murphy's lab is working in collaboration with the IU Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to create educational modules for first-time university instructors that review the influence of faculty mindset beliefs on 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," Murphy said. "It's clear that helping faculty understand how to employ 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."

Explore further: Growth mindset found to temper impact of poverty on student achievement

More information: E.A. Canning el al., "STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes," Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau4734 , http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau4734

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2019
More politically motivated "science". Again saying that the faults and failings of blacks are not their responsibility. Everybody else is to blame.
They try to talk about perceptions, preconceptions of instructors about the abilities of blacks, Hispanics, and so on. No real question of where these supposedly wrong perceptions come from! And, of course, no consideration of the fact that they come from constant and repetitive experience. If someone says animals with claws and large fangs can be aggressive and dangerous, it's not necessarily out of bigotry against them!
And, certainly, no consideration is given of the idea that it's a belief that individuals are necessarily smart, their intelligence "malleable", that might lead to faulty and false grading of abilities higher than they are.
rrwillsj
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2019
well julipensive, your comment certainly reveals your own failures as a human being.
As well ass your intellectual incompetency.

Your expression of fear that you are inferior to everyone else?
Is probably the most honest revelation of self-awareness you are capable of.

"Bigot, Here's Your Sign!"
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
"social psychologists found that professors' beliefs about intelligence play a measurable role in the success of all students"

-Of course they do; that's how they earn their pay. Sociopolitics is an applied science. It is the academies job to modify behavior, not explain it.

Evolutionary psychologists might reach different conclusions but probably not, at least not at the present. Same pot o' gold.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
Ah, back to the time when everyone was equally blank. They still believe it, and they are partially right... we are a domesticated species after all, able to learn all sorts of bizarre tricks.

Academies have learned to lie through their teeth havent they?

"For my next trick I shall teach them that evolution be damned! There are more sexes than we can count! (But only 2 sets of genitals, eunuchs might count, I don't know...)
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
Ah, back to the time when everyone was equally blank. They still believe it, and they are partially right... we are a domesticated species after all, able to learn all sorts of bizarre tricks
I was referring of course to the golden age of tabula rasa and militant faith-based secularism. Where was Darwin throughout all of THAT crud?

And where is he today? Cowering in a corner with the anti religionists and evolutionaries I suppose.

Just a rest stop on the road to a brighter tomorrow.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
"The upshot? "We're not going to see fixed mindsets disappear as we turn over a new generation of professors," she said..."

-And in 30 years they'll be saying the exact same thing about YOU hahaha. Didnt you take philo 101?

That's the trouble with applied sociopolitics - 'Everythings beautiful IN ITS OWN TIME'. Tomorrows gen will be jumping through different hoops and you should be prepared to adjust or become irrelevant.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
Tabula rasa. When sex was irrelevant. Things were so much easier back then.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
Today everyone's concerned with having the right kind of sex with the right partner, in the right position, with the proper appendages.

Except the traditional missionary position of course which is only good for overpopulating the world with bigots and racists.

More like kama sutra than tabula rasa.
dudester
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
I don't dispute that penrod is a bigot. He has a religio-political axe to grind, and I've long watched him use that axe to chop up every bit of evidence on every subject that passes through the filter in his mind until that evidence fits his model.
But if you deny that the title to this article could just as easily have read 'Racial achievement gaps in STEM classes predict faculty beliefs about intelligence', then how can you lecture jpr for his climate change denialsim or his creationist drivel?
The human brain has in part evolved to err on the side of seeing too many patterns in the world rather than too few-- for instance we start at sticks that we think are snakes and live, so we don't ignore snakes that we think are sticks and die. Because every snake isn't venomous, but depending on your size, every snake does bite and/or constrict. So our conserved genes "see" the pattern, and we jump.
Culture is real. Skin color can determine cultural environment, but not intelligence.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Feb 17, 2019
otto if you are going to comment on Darwin? You need to read what he actually wrote.
Not the modern reactionary propaganda. Which consists of hilarious misinterpretations of his work & life.
As immersed as he was in the genteel British high-middle to upper class caste system & cultural norms?

Considered individually, many ideas & statements from Darwin would actually be too conservative for today's altright illiterates, infected with fascist politically correctness &, ideological purity of lower bourgeoisie stultifying conformity.

"Whatever the Glorious Leader says...
Automatically defines reality."
No Orwell did not say that.
But I suspect if he was alive today? He'd at least "thought" it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.