April 1, 2022
Improving diversity in STEM education has been a long-standing focus of policymakers and researchers. Physics and engineering in particular have very low numbers of women in high school courses, undergraduate programs, and in the fields. Pitt scholars Malespina, Schunn, and Singh investigate motivational factors -- an active area of research that aims to increase the inclusion of women in physics.
Main takeaways from this research are:
- Students have different mindset beliefs for themselves and others.
- All students' mindset beliefs decrease from the start to the end of the course, and this change is more drastic for women.
- "My Ability" beliefs are the best mindset predictors of course grades.
- Experiences that influenced students' mindsets may have affected men and women differently.
Improving diversity in STEM education has been a long-standing focus of policymakers and researchers. Physics and engineering in particular have very low numbers of women in high school courses, undergraduate programs, and in the fields. Motivational factors are an active area of research that aims to increase the inclusion of women in physics. Of these factors, one that has recently gained traction in physics is intelligence mindset (i.e., the belief that intelligence is either innate and unchangeable or can be developed).
Three Pitt researches studied intelligence mindset in an introductory calculus-based physics class to investigate if mindset views were separable into more nuanced dimensions, if they varied by gender/sex and over time, and if they predicted course grade. Alysa Malespina, PhD candidate, Physics & Astronomy; Christian Schunn, Professor, Psychology, and Senior Scientist, Learning Research & Development Center; and Chandralekha Singh, Distinguished Professor, Physics & Astronomy, and Director, Discipline-based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC) surveyed and interviewed 683 students in Physics I at the University of Pittsburgh.
The results of the study showed that intelligence mindset can be divided into four factors: My Ability, My Growth, Others' Ability, and Others' Growth. Example questions from the survey for each factor are:
My Ability: I can change my intelligence in physics quite a bit.
My Growth: I could never become really good at physics even if I were to work hard because I don't have natural ability.
Others' Ability: People can change their intelligence in physics quite a lot by working hard.
Others' Growth: To really excel in physics, people need to have a natural ability in physics
Malespina et. al's research revealed that gender/sex differences are more pronounced in the "My" categories than the "Others" categories. At the start of the course, there were no gender differences in any mindset component except for "My Ability." However, gender differences develop in each component from the start to the end of the course. In the "My Ability" category, the gender differences increase over time. Finally, they found that "My Ability" is the only mindset factor that predicted course grade.
These results allow for a more nuanced view of intelligence mindset than has been suggested in previous interview and survey-based work. By looking at the differences in mindset factors over time, it becomes clear that learning environments affect women's and men's intelligence mindsets differently. The largest gender difference is in "My Ability," the factor that best predicts course grade. This finding has implications for developing future mindset interventions and opens new opportunities to eliminate classroom inequities.
Malespina, A., Schunn, C.D. & Singh, C. (2022). Whose ability and growth matter? Gender, mindset and performance in physics. International Journal of STEM Education.