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What Profs Think

What science professors think about intelligence — whether it is a fixed or changeable trait — influences their students' success, particularly that of their students who are from minority or underrepresented backgrounds, according to a new study.

Indiana University social psychologists surveyed about 150 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professors about their beliefs about intelligence and compared their responses to university records on their students' grades. As they report in Science Advances, Indiana's Mary Murphy and her colleagues found that students taking courses from professors who thought intelligence was fixed performed poorly. The effect, the researchers note, was largest for students from underrepresented minorities.

"Some faculty explicitly communicate their fixed mindset — suggesting that if students do not understand the material quickly, they may not do well and should consider dropping the course," Murphy says in a statement. "On the other hand, some faculty communicate a growth mindset by regularly providing students feedback and opportunities to self-assess and reflect on their learning."

She and her colleagues note that faculty members with fixed mindsets were just as likely to be men as women, and that there were no differences by faculty member race or ethnicity or by STEM field.