Personal Conceptions of Intelligence, Self-Esteem, and School Achievement in Italian and Portuguese Students

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Motivation and Learning

Considerable evidence in the literature demonstrates how scholastic achievement depends on the reciprocal enhancement of students' cognitive abilities and emotional-motivational attributes. When there is a disfunctional pattern of motivation in relation to studying, characterized by an inappropriate representation of the subject's abilities, then low self-esteem, negative attribution style, and lack of persistence create conditions for poor use of an individual's cognitive capacity, with the inevitable negative consequences not only for scholastic achievement, but for the process of constructing personality. This relationship is especially important during adolescence (Bacchini, Freda, & Cassaro, 2000; Vermigli, Travaglia, Alcini, & Galluccio, 2001). School, seen as a kind of test bank, and where the student's future is mapped out, influences the process of constructing self-image, self-esteem, and a sense of self-sufficiency. Simultaneously, new cognitive skills centralize the decision-making and planning processes (Carugati, 1997; Cattelino, Bigotti, & Bonino, 2001).

Personal Conceptions of Intelligence and School Achievement

Personal conceptions of intelligence direct individuals towards either a dynamic-incremental or static representation of their own abilities, and influence their formulation of causal attributions, achievement goals, persistence, and task choices (Dweck, 1999; Levy, Stroessner, & Dweck, 1998; Levy & Dweck, 1999). In particular, subjects taking the incremental view consider intelligence as a quality which can be improved through effort. They also set themselves goals based on their desire to master new skills, thereby increasing their competence. Moreover, they tend to adopt effective strategies, seek challenging tasks, and make greater effort, which is seen under their control. On the other hand, subjects with a static view consider intelligence as a sort of gift with which the individual is endowed and cannot change. They tend to adopt goals aimed at ensuring positive judgements of their abilities. They see effort as an indicator of their limited ability, employing superficial strategies and favoring easily achievable goals (Dweck, 1999; Erdley, Cain, Loomis, Dumas-Hines, & Dweck, 1997). The way people view intelligence seems to be linked to gender; that is, girls tend to adopt a static view of intelligence, which influences their choice of goals. They tend to avoid challenge, to have more limited expectations of success than their male counterparts, and to attribute failure to their own lack of ability. Failure is likely to be followed by worsening performance and an increased tendency toward learned helplessness and a generally lower level of self-esteem (Eccles, Wigfield, Harold, & Blumenfeld, 1993; Stetsenko, Little, Grasshof, & Oettingen, 2000). An individual's conception of intelligence thus has a powerful influence on scholastic achievement, both in terms of the predisposition to learn and of the results actually achieved. On the one hand, students who see ability and performance as relatively fixed tend to focus on performance, and are more likely to fall back on superficial strategies in order to complete a task. On the other hand, students who believe in incremental intelligence and performance demonstrate a greater predisposition for long-term learning. Furthermore, numerous studies have found a correlation between school grades and representations of intelligence. Students who adopt an incremental view tend to get higher grades than those with a static view (Faria, 1996; Stipek & Gralinski, 1991).

Self-esteem and School Achievement

Self-esteem is a fundamental aspect of a person's experience and quality of life (Crocker & Wolfe, 2001). A positive self-evaluation is a crucial predictor of one's general well-being and degree of adaptation to the social context, as well as a powerful factor in protecting against psycho-social risks in adolescence (Forzi & Not, 2003). …