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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bridging Mindset Theory and Attribution Theory: A Longitudinal Exploration of Students’ Belief Patterns in Their Early Years of College

  • Author(s): khan, tarana
  • Advisor(s): Eccles, Jacquelynne S.
  • et al.

I explored the interrelation of students’ general intelligence mindsets, context-specific mindsets, and attributions in the early years of college. Dweck and her colleagues have proposed that a set of beliefs, called mindsets, regarding the malleability of one’s intelligence and other characteristics, play a key role in how we respond to academic difficulties and failures. Mindsets have typically been understood as two separate worldviews—you can either have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. However, there is a lesser explored possibility that students may endorse a mixture of both mindsets. Although Dweck has suggested that it is indeed possible for individuals to adjust their mindsets, mindsets have typically been thought of as stable traits, but there is little empirical support for whether this is true. Furthermore, little is known about how general mindsets compare to domain or context-specific mindsets. Past research has shown that specific attributions moderate the relationship between general mindsets and many achievement-related outcomes, but it is unclear how context-specific mindsets are related to context-specific attributions. Most studies have taken variable centered approaches to understanding how single attributions and one type of mindset impact achievement and motivation, but this is a limited story.

In the first study of this dissertation, I explored the stability and development of mindset beliefs over an academic quarter in two different academic contexts (hardest and easiest course). I also created homogenous subgroups of individuals who hold similar general and course-specific growth mindset and fixed mindset patterns and looked at how these patterns develop over time. In the second study, I utilized examined how context-specific growth and fixed mindsets were related to students’ effort and ability attributions, respectively, in a challenging course context. In the third study, I used cluster analysis to find homogenous groups of students with similar mindsets and attribution patterns, exploring how these patterns were associated with academic performance indicators and students’ motivation-related beliefs. The results of these studies have implications for understanding how college students’ mindsets and attributions develop and change in differing academic contexts during the early years of college.

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