Biology is not destiny

From Diversifying Economic Quality: A Wiki for Instructors and Departments

Revision as of 15:46, 23 October 2011 by Chicks1 (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

Emphasize that biology is not destiny.

"Biology is not destiny" refers to the idea that minority and female students are often stuck in the mindset that intelligence is inherent and in turn cannot be expanded. The idea that certain individuals are biologically less capable of contributing to an academic field stems from the dominant group within that field, in other words race and gender in academia, as well as in society, are entities that are constructed. Societal beliefs concerning intelligence is a key variable that often makes underrepresented students feel incompetent in various academic fields. In the case of Economics, since the field predominantly consists of Caucasian males a perception of the field as a whole has been created, which has discouraged underrepresented students from the field.

In one finding, when teachers and instructors told female students that their intelligence could grow and expand with learning and experience, the students performed better on math tests and were more optimistic about their futures in the mathematics field. By emphasizing that success in mathematics and beyond is not dependent on factors such as gender (especially in male-dominant fields), professors created an inclusive classroom environment where female students felt more confident about their skills and abilities.

At Stanford University, Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist, has been conducting research on the idea of motivation for the past 40 years. She argues that there are two kinds of mindsets when it comes to academic motivation. Her studies have demonstrated that "A 'growth mindset' (viewing intelligence as a changeable, malleable attribute that can be developed through effort) as opposed to a 'fixed mindset' (viewing intelligence as an inborn, uncontrollable trait) is likely to lead to greater persistence in the face of adversity and ultimately success in any realm."


Dweck finds that fixed mindsets among junior high and college students attributes to the gender performance gap in math and science, where areas growth mindsets among students results in no sort of gender gap in academic performance. Dweck and her colleges followed several hundred women at a top-tier university in a one semester calculus course and found that growth mindsets also promotes persistence in students. Female students in classrooms where growth mindsets were encouraged, were more likely to continue taking classes in that given field, and were less susceptible to negative gender stereotypes about intelligence.


Faculty in tertiary education should stress to underrepresented students that academic skills and abilities can be acquired through hard work, and that biology does not determine intelligence.