Knowledge or abilities? How undergraduates define intelligence

Lisa Limeri, Jun Choe, Hannah G. Harper, Hannah R. Martin, Annaleigh Benton, Erin L. Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whether students view intelligence as a fixed or malleable trait (i.e., their “mindset”) has significant implications for their responses to failure and academic outcomes. Despite a long history of research on mindset and its growing popularity, recent meta-analyses suggest that mindset does a poor job of predicting academic outcomes for undergraduate populations. Here, we present evidence that these mixed results could be due to ambiguous language on the mindset scale. Specifically, the term “intelligence” is a referent in every item of the mindset scale but is never defined, which could result in differing interpretations and measurement error. Therefore, we conducted an exploratory, qualitative study to characterize how undergraduate students define intelligence and how their definitions may influence how they respond to the mindset scale. We uncovered two distinct ways that undergraduates define intelligence: knowledge and abilities (e.g., ability to learn, solve problems). Additi
Original languageEnglish
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


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