Saying isn't necessarily believing: influencing self-theories in computing

Brian Hanks, Sue Fitzgerald, Laurie Murphy, Lynda Thomas, Renee McCauley, Carol Zander, Beth Simon

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

48 Citations (SciVal)


Jane sees 50 compiler errors as a challenge. John sees them as defeat. Psychology research suggests these contrasting reactions may stem from students' self-theories, or their beliefs about themselves. Jane's reaction is characteristic of a growth mindset, the idea that with hard work and persistence, one's intelligence can increase. John's behavior is in line with a fixed mindset, the belief that individuals are born with a certain amount of intelligence and there is little they can do to change it. Numerous studies of self-theories have shown that students with a growth mindset perform better in academic settings; they cope more effectively with challenges, maintain higher grades, and are less susceptible to stereotype threat. In this study we attempted a 'saying is believing' intervention to encourage CS1 students to adopt a growth mindset both in general and towards programming. Despite notable success of this type of intervention in a non-CS context, our results offered few statistically significant differences both from pre-survey to post-survey and between control and intervention groups. Further, the statistically significant results we did find differed in direction between institutions (some students exhibited more growth response, others less). We analyzed further evidence to explore possible confounding issues including whether our intervention even registered with students and how students interpreted the questions which we used to assess their self-theories.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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