European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 245–267 | Cite as

My intelligence may be more malleable than yours: the revised implicit theories of intelligence (self-theory) scale is a better predictor of achievement, motivation, and student disengagement

  • Krista De CastellaEmail author
  • Donald Byrne


The belief that intelligence is malleable has important consequences for achievement and motivation (Blackwell et al. Child Development, 78, 246-263. 2007; Dweck, 1999; Robins & Pals, Self and Identity, 1,313-336, 2002). However, believing that it is possible to improve intelligence does not necessarily mean students are always confident they can improve their own. The current study presents a revised “self-theory” measure of the implicit theories of intelligence scale, which assess students’ beliefs about their ability to mold their own intelligence in contrast to their beliefs about the malleability of intelligence in general. In testing with 643 Australian high school students (62 % female) ranging from 15 to 19 years of age (M = 16.6, standard deviation (SD) = 1.01), the belief that intelligence is “fixed” was predictive of lower endorsement of achievement goals, greater helplessness attributions, and poorer self-reported academic grades. Fixed “entity” beliefs were also predictive of academic self-handicapping, truancy, and disengagement. On all of these measures, the new self-theory scale uniquely explained greater outcome variance. These results indicate that students’ implicit beliefs—particularly about their own intelligence—may have important implications for their motivation, engagement, and performance in school.


Implicit theories Intelligence Entity Incremental Achievement Motivation Self-handicapping 



We would like to thank Carol S. Dweck for her assistance and guidance in the preparation of this manuscript.


  1. Abelson, R. P. (1985). A variance explanation paradox: when a little is a lot. Psychological Bulletin, 97, 129–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alicke, M. D. (1985). Global self-evaluation as determined by the desirability and controllability of trait adjectives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 1621–1630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alicke, M., & Sedikides, C. (2009). Self-enhancement and self-protection: what they are and what they do. European Review of Social Psychology, 20, 1–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ames, C. (1984). Achievement attributions and self-instructions under competitive and individualistic goal structures. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 478–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 260–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Arbuckle, J. L., & Wothke, W. (1999). AMOS 4.0 user's guide. Chicago: Smallwaters.Google Scholar
  7. Aronson, J., Fried, C., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking. Psychological Review, 64, 359–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Atkinson, J. W. (1978). Motivational determinants of intellective performance and cumulative achievement. In J. W. Atkinson & J. O. Raynor (Eds.), Personality, motivation & achievement. Washington: Hemisphere Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Atkinson, J. W., & Litwin, G. H. (1960). Achievement motive and test anxiety conceived as motive to approach success and motive to avoid failure. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 60, 52–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
  12. Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents, 5, 307–337.Google Scholar
  13. Barron, K. E., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2001). Achievement goals and optimal motivation: testing multiple goal models. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 706–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Beer, J. S. (2002). Implicit self-theories of shyness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1009–1024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bempechat, J., London, P., & Dweck, C. S. (1991). Children’s conceptions of ability in major domains: an interview and experimental study. Child Study Journal, 21, 11–35.Google Scholar
  16. Bergen, R. (1992). Beliefs about intelligence and achievement-related behaviors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.Google Scholar
  17. Blackwell, L. S. (2002). Psychological mediators of student achievement during the transition to junior high school: the role of implicit theories. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  18. Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Brainology (2010). Accessed October 10, 2011. The Mindset Works Website:
  20. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In: K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing Structural Equation Models (pp. 136–162). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Burkley, M., Parker, J., Stermer, S. P., & Burkley, E. (2010). Trait beliefs that make women vulnerable to math disengagement. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 234–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cassady, J. C. (2001) Self-reported GPA and SAT: a methodological note. Practical assessment, research, and evaluation 7. Retrieved Online May 17th, 2011:
  23. Chen, J. A., & Pajares, F. (2010). Implicit theories of ability of grade 6 science students: relation to epistemological beliefs and academic motivation and achievement in science. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35, 75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Chen, L. H., Chen, M. Y., Lin, M. S., Kee, Y. H., Kuo, C. F., & Shui, S. H. (2008). Implicit theory of athletic ability and self-handicapping in college students. Psychological Reports, 103, 476–484.Google Scholar
  25. Church, M. A., Elliot, A. J., & Gable, S. L. (2001). Perceptions of classroom environment, achievement goals and achievement outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 43–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Cohen, J. (1983). The cost of dichotomization. Applied Psychological Measurement, 7, 249–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd Ed.). LawrenceGoogle Scholar
  28. Cury, F., Elliot, A. J., Da Fonseca, D., & Moller, A. C. (2006). The social-cognitive model of achievement motivation and the 2 x 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 666–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Cury, F., Da Fonseca, D., Zahn, I., & Elliot, A. (2008). Implicit theories and IQ test performance: a sequential meditational analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 783–791.Google Scholar
  30. De Castella, K., Byrne, D., & Covington, M. (2013). Unmotivated or motivated to fail? A cross-cultural study of achievement motivation, fear of failure, and student disengagement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 861–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Deppe, R. K., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (1996). Self-handicapping and intrinsic motivation: buffering intrinsic motivation from the threat of failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 868–876. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.70.4.868.
  32. Dickey, D. (1996). Testing the fit of our models of psychological dynamics using confirmatory methods: An introductory primer. In B. Thompson (Ed.), Advances in social science methodology (pp. 219–227). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  33. Diener, C. I., & Dweck, C. S. (1978). An analysis of learned helplessness: continuous changes in performance, strategy and achievement cognitions following failure. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 36, 451–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Diener, C. I., & Dweck, C. S. (1980). An analysis of learned helplessness: the process of success. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 39, 940–952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Donnellan, M. B. (2008). A psychometric evaluation of two achievement goal inventories. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 68, 643–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Doron, J., Yannick, S., Boiche, J., & Le Scanff, C. (2009). Coping with examinations: exploring relationships between students’ coping strategies, implicit theories of ability and perceived control. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 515–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Dunning, D., Leuenberger, A., & Sherman, D. A. (1995). A new look at motivated inference: are self-serving theories of success a product of motivational forces? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(1), 58–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Dupeyrat, C., & Marine, C. (2005). Implicit theories of intelligence, goal orientation, cognitive engagement and achievement: a test of Dweck’s model with returning to school adults. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30, 43–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Dweck, C. S. (1975). The role of expectations and attributions in the alleviation of learned helplessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 674–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Dweck, C. (1999). Self-theories: their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  41. Dweck, C. S. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 391–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995a). Implicit theories and their role in judgements and reactions: a world from two perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995b). Implicit theories: elaboration and extension of the model. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 322–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Dweck, C. S., & Wortman, C. B. (1982). Learned helplessness, anxiety and achievement motivation: neglected parallels in cognitive, affective and coping responses. In H. W. Krohne & L. Laux (Eds.), Achievement stress and anxiety (pp. 93–125). New York: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  46. Elliot, A. J. (1999). Approach and avoidance motivation and achievement goals. Educational Psychologist, 34, 169–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Elliot, A. J., & Church, M. A. (1997). A hierarchical model of approach and avoidance achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 218–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Elliot, E. S., & Dweck, C. S. (1988). Goals: an approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 5–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Elliot, A. J., & McGregor, H. (2001). A 2 × 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 501–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Erdley, C. A., Cain, K. M., Loomis, C. C., Dumans-Hines, F., & Dweck, C. S. (1997). Relations among children’s social goals, implicit personality theories and responses to social failure. Developmental Psychology, 33, 263–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Eronen, S., Nurmi, J., & Salmela-Aro, K. (1998). Optimistic, defensive-pessimistic, impulsive and self-handicapping strategies in university environments. Learning and Instruction, 8, 159–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Fisher, R. J., & Katz, J. E. (2000). Social-desirability bias and the validity of self-reported values. Psychology & Marketing, 17, 105–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Fryer, J. W., & Elliot, A. J. (2007). Stability and change in achievement goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 700–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Good, C., Aronson, J., & Inzlicht, M. (2003). Improving adolescents’ standardized test performance: an intervention to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, 645–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Gramzow, R. H., Elliot, A. J., Asher, E., & McGregor, H. A. (2003). Self-evaluation bias and academic performance: some ways and some reasons why. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 41–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Gramzow, R. H., & Willard, G. (2006). Exaggerating current and past performance: motivated self-enhancement versus reconstructive memory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1114–1125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Grant, H., & Dweck, C. S. (2003). Clarifying achievement goals and their impact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 541–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Green, J., Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2007). Motivation and engagement in English, mathematics and science high school subjects: towards an understanding of multidimensional domain specificity. Learning and Individual Differences, 17, 269–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Harris, R. N., Snyder, C. R., Higgins, R. L., & Schrag, J. L. (1986). Enhancing the prediction of self-handicapping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1191–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Haynes, T. L., Daniels, L. M., Stupnisky, R. H., Perry, R. P., & Hladkyj, S. (2008). The effect of attributional retraining on mastery and performance motivation among first-year college students. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 30, 198–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Hepper, E. G., Gramzow, R. H., & Sedikides, C. (2010). Individual differences in self-enhancement and self-protection strategies: an integrative analysis. Journal of Personality, 78, 781–814.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Hong, Y., Chiu, C., Dweck, C. S., Lin, D. M. S., & Wan, W. (1999). Implicit theories, attributions and coping: a meaning system approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 588–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Howell, A. J., & Buro, K. (2009). Implicit beliefs, achievement goals and procrastination: a meditational analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, 151–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Jones, E. E., & Berglas, S. (1978). Control of attributions about the self through self-handicapping strategies: the appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 200–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Kamins, M., & Dweck, C. S. (1999). Person vs. process praise and criticism: implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology, 35, 835–847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Kärkkäinen, R., Räty, H., & Kasanen, K. (2008). Children’s notions of the malleability of their academic competencies. Social Psychology of Education, 11, 445–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Knee, C. R., Patrick, H., & Lonsbary, C. (2003). Implicit theories of relationships: orientation toward evaluation and cultivation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Levy, S., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Trait-focused and process-focused social judgment. Social Cognition, 16, 151–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Maltby, J., Day, L., Giles, D., Gillett, R., Quick, M., Langcaster-James, H., & Linley, P. A. (2008). Implicit theories of a desire for fame. British Journal of Psychology, 99, 279–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mangels, J. A., Butterfield, B., Lamb, J., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2006). Why do beliefs about intelligence influence learning success? A social cognitive neuroscience model. Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 1, 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Marsh, H. M. (1990). The structure of academic self-concept: the Marsh/Shavelson model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 623–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Martin, A. J. (2001). The student motivation scale: a tool for measuring and enhancing motivation. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counseling, 11, 1–20.Google Scholar
  73. Martin, A. J. (2003). The student motivation scale: further testing of an instrument that measures school students’ motivation. Australian Journal of Education, 47, 88–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Martin, K. A., & Brawley, L. R. (2002). Self-handicapping in physical achievement settings: the contributions of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self and Identity, 1, 337–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Martin, A. J., Marsh, H. W., & Debus, R. L. (2003). Self-handicapping and defensive pessimism: a model of self-protection from a longitudinal perspective. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28, 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Martin, A. J., Marsh, H. W., & Debus, R. L. (2001). Self-handicapping and defensive pessimism: exploring a model of predictors and outcomes from a self-protection perspective. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 87–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Maxey, E. J., & Ormsby, V. J. (1971). The accuracy of self-report information collected on the ACT Test Battery: high school grades and items of nonacademic achievement (ACT Research Rep. No. 45). Iowa City, IA: American College Testing Program.Google Scholar
  78. McClelland, D. C., Atkinson, J. W., Clark, R. A., & Lowell, E. L. (1953). The achievement motive. New York: Appleton Century Crofts.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. McGregor, H. A., & Elliot, A. J. (2002). Achievement goals as predictors of achievement-related processes prior to task engagement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 381–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Midgley, C., Arunkumar, R., & Urdan, T. C. (1996). “If I don’t do well tomorrow, there’s a reason”: predictors of adolescents’ use of academic self-handicapping strategies. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 423–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Midgley, C., Kaplan, A., & Middelton, M. (2001). Performance-approach goals: good for what, for whom, under what circumstances, and at what cost? Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 77–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Midgley, C., Maehr, M. L., Hicks, L., Roeser, R., Urdan, T., Anderman, E., Kaplan, A., Arun- kumar, R., & Middleton, M. (1998). Manual for the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (PALS). Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan.Google Scholar
  83. Midgley, C., & Urdan, T. (2001). Academic self-handicapping and achievement goals: a further examination. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 26, 61–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Niiya, Y., Crocker, J., & Bartmess, E. N. (2004). From vulnerability to resilience: learning orientations buffer contingent self-esteem from failure. Psychological Science, 15, 801–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Nurmi, J., Aunola, K., Salmela-Aro, K., & Lindroos, M. (2003). The role of success expectation and task-avoidance in academic performance and satisfaction: three studies on antecedents, consequences and correlates. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28, 59–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Nurmi, J., Onatsu, T., & Haavisto, T. (1995). Underachievers’ cognitive and behavioral strategies—self-handicapping at school. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20, 188–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Ommundsen, Y., Haugen, R., & Lund, T. (2005). Academic self-concept, implicit theories of ability, and self-regulation strategies. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49, 461–474.Google Scholar
  89. Peterson, C. (1995). Entity and incremental world views: some lessons from learned helplessness theory and research. Psychological Inquiry, 6, 307–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Pintrich, P. R. (2000). Multiple goals, multiple pathways: the role of goal orientation in learning and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 544–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Robins, R. W., & Pals, J. L. (2002). Implicit self-theories in the academic domain: implications for goal orientation, attributions, affect and self-esteem change. Self and Identity, 1, 313–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Rhodewalt, F. (1994). Conceptions of ability, achievement goals, and individual differences in self-handicapping behavior: on the application of implicit theories. Journal of Personality, 62, 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Rosenthal, R., & Rubin, D. B. (1982). A simple, general purpose display of magnitude of experimental effect. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74, 166–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Sharot, T., Riccardi, A. M., Raio, C. M., & Phelps, E. A. (2007). Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias. Nature, 450, 102–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Schmalt, H. D. (1999). Assessing the achievement motive using the grid technique. Journal of Research in Personality, 33, 109–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Stevens, J. (1996). Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences (3rd E.d.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  97. Stipek, D., & Gralinski, J. H. (1996). Children’s beliefs about intelligence and school performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 397–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Story, A. L., & Dunning, D. (2002). The more rational side of self-serving prototypes: the effect of success and failure performance feedback. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 513–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Strube, M. J. (1986). An analysis of the self-handicapping scale. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 211–224. doi: 10.1207/s15324834basp0703_4.
  100. Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  101. Tamir, M., John, O. P., Srivastava, S., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Implicit theories of emotion: affective and social outcomes across a major life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 731–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Taylor, S. E., & Armor, D. A. (1996). Positive illusions and coping with adversity. Journal of Personality, 64, 873–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Werth, L., & Forster, J. (2002). Implicit person theories influence memory judgments: the circumstances under which metacognitive knowledge is used. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32, 353–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Weiner, B., & Kukla, A. (1970). An attributional analysis of achievement motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Wilson, T. D., & Linville, P. W. (1985). Improving the performance of college freshmen with attributional techniques. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 287–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education. They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267–301.Google Scholar
  107. Young-Hoon, K., & Chiu, C. (2011). Emotional costs of inaccurate self-assessments: both self-effacement and self-enhancement can lead to dejection. Emotion, 11, 1096–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations