Gifted label may lead students to see intelligence as fixed rather than malleable

A pretty African American university woman reading at the parkStudents who are labeled as gifted at any point in their schooling are more likely to view intelligence as a fixed attribute rather than one that can be increased with effort, according to a recent study in the Journal of Advanced Academics.

While the effect on implicit beliefs about intelligence was modest in this study, researchers recommend that educators promote incremental beliefs with gifted students so that they continue to develop their talents by seeking out challenges and working hard.

Timing of identification was unrelated to implicit beliefs based on this sample of 1,743 high-ability freshmen college students drawn from a broader study on science beliefs. The students attended a university that has been consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the U.S. Students completed a survey during the fall or spring semester as part of a natural science course.

The survey asked them if they’d ever been labeled as gifted in school and also asked them to self-report their SAT scores. Students were also surveyed about the implicit beliefs about intelligence based on a 6-point Likert-type scale. A sample item read “You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t really do much to change it.”

“Our findings should not be used to conclude that gifted labels are uniformly unrelated to implicit beliefs,” the authors write. “Some students may develop entity beliefs as a result of being identified as gifted. Accordingly, one fruitful avenue for future research will be to closely investigate the boundaries of this phenomenon: For whom, and under what conditions, do socialization messages about giftedness result in enduring change in students’ implicit beliefs?”

“Identification as Gifted and Implicit Beliefs About Intelligence: An Examination of Potential Moderators,” by Kate Snyder et al., Journal of Advanced Academics, 2013, Volume 24, Number 4, pp. 242-258.

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