Developmental Stage

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A recent set of studies (Muenks, Miele, & Wigfield, 2016) introduced the concept of perceived effort source to better explain how students reason about the relation between effort and ability when evaluating the academic abilities of other students. These studies showed that participants who were induced to perceive effort as task-elicited (i.e., as being primarily due to the subjective difficulty of the task) were more likely to view effort and ability as inversely related than participants who were induced to perceive effort as self-initiated (i.e., as being due to students’ motivation to go beyond the basic demands of the task). The current studies expanded on this research by demonstrating that, in the absence of an effort source manipulation, college students spontaneously invoked beliefs about the source of effort when evaluating their own (Study 2) and other students’ (Studies 1–3) abilities. The three studies also showed that our novel measure of individual differences in effort source beliefs was a better predictor of participants’ judgments of math ability (Studies 1 and 2) and verbal ability (Study 3) than a standard measure of their ability mindsets (i.e., beliefs about the extent to which intelligence is malleable). Specifically, participants who naturally tended to perceive effort as task-elicited generally rated students who expended relatively little effort as having more ability than did participants who tended to perceive effort as self-initiated. Implications for research on student motivation and for education practice are discussed.

This research snapshot summarizes a project led by Alexander Browman as part of the National Study of Learning Mindsets Early Career Fellowship. The project explores how teachers' beliefs about the malleability of intelligence and perceptions of student ability influence their use of supportive or restrictive instructional messages.

Economic inequality can have a range of negative consequences for those in younger generations, particularly for those from lower-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Economists and psychologists, among other social scientists, have addressed this issue, but have proceeded largely in parallel. This Perspective outlines how these disciplines have proposed and provided empirical support for complementary theoretical models. Specifically, both disciplines emphasize that inequality weakens people’s belief in socioeconomic opportunity, thereby reducing the likelihood that low-SES young people will engage in behaviours that would improve their chances of upward mobility (for example, persisting in school or averting teenage pregnancy). In integrating the methods and techniques of economics and psychology, we offer a cohesive framework for considering this issue. When viewed as a whole, the interdisciplinary body of evidence presents a more complete and compelling framework than does either discipline alone. We use this unification to offer policy recommendations that would advance prospects for mobility among low-SES young people.

Despite facing daunting odds of academic success compared with their more socioeconomically advantaged peers, many students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds maintain high levels of academic motivation and persist in the face of difficulty. The researchers propose that for these students, academic persistence may hinge on their perceptions of socioeconomic mobility, or their general beliefs regarding whether or not socioeconomic mobility—a powerful academic motivator—can occur in their society. Specifically, low-SES students' desire to persist on a primary path to mobility (i.e., school) should remain strong if they believe that socioeconomic mobility can occur in their society. By contrast, those who believe that socioeconomic mobility generally does not occur should be less motivated to persist academically. One correlational and two experimental studies provide support for this hypothesis among low (but not high) SES high school and university students. Implications for future intervention efforts are discussed.

The current research proposes that the extent to which a university is perceived as actively supporting versus passively neglecting students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds can influence low-SES students’ academic motivation and self-concepts. In Experiments 1 and 2, low-SES students exposed to cues suggestive of an institution’s warmth toward socioeconomic diversity demonstrated greater academic efficacy, expectations, and implicit associations with high academic achievement compared with those exposed to cues indicating institutional chilliness. Exploring the phenomenology underlying these effects, Experiment 3 demonstrated that warmth cues led low-SES students to perceive their socioeconomic background as a better match with the rest of the student body and to perceive the university as more socioeconomically diverse than did chilliness cues.