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Implicit theories of intelligence, the belief that intelligence is malleable (incremental/growth mindset) or fixed (entity/fixed mindset), have been found to significantly influence children’s motivation, learning, behaviors, and academic achievement (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Implicit theories of intelligence serve as “meaning systems” which shapes a person’s goal orientation and their responses to challenging tasks and setbacks (Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin, & Wan, 1999). For example, individuals with an entity theory of intelligence value their abilities and performance outcomes, have negative beliefs about effort, and exhibit helpless responses to failure. On the other hand, individuals with a growth mindset believe that their ability can be improved through effort, have a learning-goal orientation, view effort as positive, view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, and have a mastery-oriented response to failure or setbacks (Blackwell et al., 2007). Recent work by Haimovitz and Dweck (2016) supported that parents’ failure mindsets, the belief that failure is either an enhancing or debilitating experience, is also related to implicit theories of intelligence and goal orientation. The present study extended this work by investigating the relationship between children’s implicit theories of intelligence, goal orientation, and failure mindsets. Specifically, this study investigated whether children’s goal orientation explained the relationship between their implicit theories of intelligence and failure mindsets.
To test the association between child’s intelligence mindset, goal orientation, failure mindset we used the PROCESS macro by Hayes (2016). The PROCESS macro enables the use of bootstrapping to estimate indirect (mediating effects). We tested children’s reports of performance goal orientation as a mediator of children’s entity/fixed mindset and children’s failure-is-debilitating mindset controlling for age and gender. Using bootstrapped mediational analysis we found that children’s goal orientation was directly and indirect associated the relationship between children’s fixed mindset and failure-is-debilitating, suggesting partial mediation. The direct effect between was significant children’s entity/fixed mindset and failure-is-debilitating mindset (𝛽=.363, 95% CI [.170, .508]) and the indirect effect through performance goal orientation (𝛽=.064, 95% CI [.011, .1145]).
These findings provide a better understanding motivational processes in children. Specifically, the present study demonstrated the significant role of implicit theories of intelligence in influencing goal orientation and how children view failure. Previous research has implemented experimental designs to investigate the relationship between implicit theories of intelligence, goal orientation, and achievement patterns of behavior (mastery-oriented vs. helpless) (Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin, & Wan, 1999). Our findings are similar to these such that it supports the notions that children who have fixed mindset typically display a helpless pattern of behavior after failure and attribute their failure to lack of ability which can set them back further. The results of this study are important because it sheds more light on children’s motivational frameworks. Future research should include how failure mindsets are related to achievement patterns of behavior, academic performance, and self-esteem. Additionally, future research should consider comparing sex, age, and racial differences.