reading and English, music and arts, and social studies (Jacobs et al., 2002). The extent to which children endorse the cultural stereotypes regarding which sex is more likely to be talented in a given domain predicts the extent to which girls and boys distort their ability self-concepts and expectations (Eccles and Harold, 1992). However, these gender differences are relatively small when they are found (Marsh, 1989).

Another perspective on the role of beliefs about competence is offered by research on stereotype threat. Steele (1997) proposed stereotype vulnerability and disidentification to help explain the underachievement of stereotyped groups. He and his colleagues describe a process by which some students in a group may disidentify with a particular domain, like school or science, due to widely held stereotypes about their lack of ability in it. To protect their own sense of self, some students disidentify with the domain and stop trying to achieve in it. Those students in the group who remain identified with the domain—that is, it is important to them and they want to succeed in it—may then suffer the effects of stereotype threat. This threat produces lowered performance in the domain, particularly in situations in which the stereotypes about their groups are made salient. Research based on this theory offers evidence that the process operates for black students in school in general and for women in stereotypically male domains, such as mathematics. These results have clear implications for performance in science, for which people tend to hold stereotypes about who has natural aptitude and who does not.

A key mediator of experiencing stereotype threat appears to be beliefs about the nature of intelligence. In a recent experimental intervention with college students, researchers found that by encouraging black students to adopt a mind set in which they viewed their own intelligence as malleable, they were able to increase their enjoyment and engagement in academics as well as their grades compared with controls (Aronson, Fried, and Good, 2002).

Goals, Values, and Interest (“I Want To Do Science”)

Even if students believe they can succeed in science, they will not exert effort unless they see some reason to do so. They may have very different reasons for engaging in academic work, and typically there is a very complex set of reasons for engaging in any one task. Researchers have used a number of theoretical frameworks to explain the psychological processes involved in students’ decisions to engage in a particular task.


Goals. Goals represent the different purposes that students may adopt in different achievement situations. Researchers working within this theoretical framework distinguished two broad orientations that students can have toward



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement