An Examination of Implicit Beliefs and Ability Judgments Among School Psychologists

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Educational Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Rudy Bailey

Second Advisor

Ron Coffen

Third Advisor

Karl Bailey



Implicit theory research establishes that teachers’ implicit beliefs influence the stereotypes that they form, their beliefs about the nature of intelligence, and their behavior. It seems essential that research should consider the implicit beliefs about intelligence among school psychologists since a considerable portion of school psychologists’ time is spent making evaluative judgments about student performance and intelligence for the special education eligibility process.


An online survey was used to collect data on beliefs about intelligence, ratings of mathematical ability, and ratings of the stability of human attributes from a sample of 105 school psychologists. Data was gathered from school psychologists employed in public schools in Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana, and California. The survey consisted of four sections: demographics, ability judgments, ideas about intelligence, and understanding other people. There were 5 demographics questions, 8 questions in the ability judgment section, 8 questions in the ideas about intelligence section, and 23 questions in the understanding other people section. There were two forms available (Form A and Form B) which the survey host, LimeSurvey, administered to every other respondent. The only difference between Form A and Form B was the hypothetical student’s quiz scores, with scores either ascending (3 3 4 3 6 5 7 6 9 8) or descending (8 9 6 7 5 6 3 4 3 3) depending on survey form.


The study showed that school psychologists were more likely to endorse an entity theory of intelligence (51.4%) compared to an incremental theory of intelligence (15.2%) with 33.3% endorsing neither theory. Using categorical regression, the study found that male respondents were significantly more likely to endorse an incremental-theory perspective than female respondents. In addition, more educated respondents were significantly more likely to endorse an entity-theory perspective. Years of experience was a factor significantly related to what theory respondents held; respondents with more experience were significantly more likely to endorse more of an entity-theory perspective. Participant survey condition and participant implicit-theory scores were not statistically significant predictors of ability rating of student mathematical performance. Thus, there was no significant difference between participant’s answers to the question: “How do you rate this student’s mathematical ability?” School psychologists who more closely identified with entity theory reported the student with initially high scores that declined as having greater ability. However, school psychologists’ implicit-theory scores were related to differences in their attributions of ability but not effort or luck. School psychologists who were unable to make judgments about who had greater mathematical ability were also less likely to believe that one can make inferences about someone knowing only a few details about the person.


School psychologists were found to hold both entity and incremental theories about intelligence but the majority held entity-theory beliefs about intelligence. When rating a student’s mathematical ability in isolation (not compared to another student) one’s implicit beliefs did not influence one’s rating of student ability. However, a small influence of one’s implicit theory was observed when asked to determine which student has greater ability when comparing two students. This study may serve as a catalyst for the further research among school psychologists regarding the role implicit beliefs about intelligence have in making evaluative judgments.

Subject Area

School psychologists--Research

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