Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Gender-Related Influence of Implicit Self-Theories on One's Intelligence with Regard to Academic Performance in Introductory Physics Classes

Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Gender-Related Influence of Implicit Self-Theories on One's Intelligence with Regard to Academic Performance in Introductory Physics Classes

Article excerpt

6.1 Overview

Even nowadays women are still underrepresented in the areas of math, science and technology (MST). The author introduces a new model to describe this phenomenon because traditional approaches based on (cognitive) differences in intelligence between gender fail to explain this finding. According to this model, girls in particular acquire disadvantageous self-related cognitions during the process of socialization and adjust themselves academically to this image. Thus, these girls create their own subjective realities which often do not correspond to the objective reality - a phenomenon verified in studies of learned helplessness. In order to explain this negative impact on the academic success of female students, Carol Dweck postulates a social-cognitive model of motivation, where she ascribes a key role to the girls' implicit self-theories of their intelligence. Relating to her model a set of self-related motivational variables, academic concept of self-esteem and subject related variables of helplessness together with academic achievement variables of 595 male and female students before, during and at the end of an introductory physics classes at the German Gymnasium were collected. The results give rise to a detailed analysis of the motivational mechanisms underlying the genesis of dysfunctional, helpless - i.e., academically interfering - behavior in MST classes.

6.2 Introduction

All around the world women, compared to men, are underrepresented in mathematical, scientific and technical fields. This is the case in particular for all industrial nations, as far as data is available (cf. Heller & Ziegler, 1997, for an overview). In Germany, for instance, in 1995, the ratio of girls to boys in advanced junior and senior high school mathematics and chemistry courses was 1:2 and 1:6 in physics courses. According to the German Federal Agency for Statistics (1996), the percentage of female university students with mathematical majors was 38.2%, in physics it was 11% and in mechanical engineering 10.3%.

The volatile nature of this problem becomes increasingly obvious in the context of societies' technological progress. Regarding the demands of the proceeding mechanization of our professional and of our everyday lives, scientific education takes on a key role in supplying physical and technical competence. The situation of women and girls is particularly alarming because research could not detect any valid proof for a heightened intelligence for physics among men (e.g. Linn & Peterson, 1985; Stumpf & Klieme, 1989). In fact, recent studies show that for few areas in which gender-related intelligence differences had been observed (cf. Benbow, 1988, 1990; Benbow & Arjmand, 1990; Stanley, 1993), those differences have been starting to level out throughout the last decades - probably due to converging experiences in the socialization process (Callahan, 1991; Beerman, Heller & Menacher, 1992; for the latest nature-nurture-debate cf. Bock & Ackrill, 1993; Benbow & Lubinski, 1993; Lubinski, Benbow & Sanders, 1993). The findings, particularly those of the last study cited, introduced a change in ideas, moving away from intelligence oriented proposals and towards socialization oriented approaches (cf. Heller & Ziegler, 1996; Ziegler, Broome & Heller, 1999).

6.3 Determinants of academic performance

Many potential variables for the explanation and prediction of the variation in students' performances have been discussed throughout the past years. In this context, the relation between intellectual abilities and academic performance was central, since intelligence had proven repeatedly to be the best predictor for academic achievement. Gaedike (1974) suggests that via intelligence tests the success of advanced schools can be predicted for a period of one to six years with an accuracy that varies between r=.30 and r=.81 (p. 52). For recent data (which goes along with this finding), compare Heller (1997) or Helmke & Weinert (1997). …

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