Teachers’ Implicit Theories of Intelligence: Influences from Different Disciplines and Scientific Theories

Nov. 01, 2012

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 35, No. 4, November 2012, 387–400
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to investigate if teachers within different disciplines hold different beliefs about implicit theories of intelligence and secondly to provide a better understanding of the scientific theories of intelligence in relation to the implicit.
The authors also investigated if preferences for implicit theories of intelligence have anything to do with age or experience among teachers.

The participants were 226 Swedish high school teachers from various knowledge domains, who completed self-report measures of intelligence regarding implicit theories and scientific theories of intelligence.
In addition to completing the TIS inventory the participants all read brief summaries of four different scientific theories of intelligence: the CHC theory, Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and the Soviet sociocultural theory.


The findings revealed that teachers from language, social science and practical disciplines had a significant preference for an incremental theory of intelligence compared to an entity theory of intelligence whilst the teachers in mathematics did not.
Based on these findings, the authors believe more consideration needs to be given to the education of mathematics teachers; particularly in respect of the possible effects of exposure to traditional teaching in the subject in both initial and in-service teacher education on their developing views of intelligence and learning.

They would suggest less isolation within subject areas and more focus on general courses where a mixture of student teachers from different subjects meet and discuss issues of pedagogy and learning.
Teacher education in mixed classes could be a way to stimulate different groups to approach a more dynamic view of intelligence.
In relation to our second aim teachers responded to how credible they found different scientific theories of intelligence to be.

In general the high school teachers thought that the Sociocultural theory was the most credible whilst the CHC theory received the lowest credibility response.
There was however a significant correlation between the CHC theory and the entity theories of intelligence as well as between sociocultural theory and the incremental theories.
Thus it seems as if some relation between implicit and scientific theories is present.
This is also confirmed in that the teachers in general preferred the incremental theory before the entity theory and found the sociocultural theory to be most convincing scientific theory.

The sociocultural approach has been an important perspective within teacher education in Sweden, which may have influenced the implicit theories among the teachers toward an incremental theory of intelligence.
From attribution theory we assumed that older and more experienced teachers would rely less on dispositional attributions such as entity theories of intelligence.
A significant interaction effect showed that older and more experienced teachers as well as younger and less experienced teachers had the highest preference for an entity theory of intelligence whilst older and less experienced teachers and younger and more experienced teachers had lower preferences for an entity theory of intelligence.
To have greater beliefs in an entity theory of intelligence is to believe that the ability to learn is innate and beyond control.


Preference for an entity theory of intelligence is higher in math compared to the other subjects.
Achievement in mathematics is thus seen by teachers to depend more on an innate ability that is uncontrollable than is achievement in social science and other subjects.
Fostering the belief that achievement does not depend on a fixed ability but is instead malleable and dependent on effort seems to be an important challenge for teacher education, particularly in mathematics.

Differences between subjects seem most pronounced with respect to the tacit knowledge of implicit theories of intelligence.
Math and science teachers departed significantly from other groups of teachers on these measures. With the scientific theories this did not happen.
The results from this study also show that
(1) older and more experienced teachers and
(2) younger and less experienced teachers had a stronger preference toward entity theories of intelligence.

Updated: Jul. 28, 2015