J. A. Mangels, Columbia University
C. S. Dweck, Stanford University
C. D. Good, Barnard College
J. Lamb, Columbia University
Abstract: Students' beliefs and goals can powerfully influence their learning success. Those who believe intelligence to be a fixed entity (entity theorists) tend to emphasize "performance goals," leaving them vulnerable to negative feedback and likely to disengage from challenging learning opportunities. In contrast, students who believe intelligence to be malleable (incremental theorists) tend to emphasize "learning goals" and rebound better from occasional failures. Guided by cognitive neuroscience models of top-down, goal-directed behavior, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to understand how these beliefs influence attention to information associated with successful error correction. Focusing on waveforms previously associated with conflict detection and error correction in a test of general knowledge, we found that entity theorists oriented strongly toward negative performance feedback, as indicated by an enhanced frontal P3 that was positively correlated with concerns about proving ability relative to others in both entity and incremental groups. Yet, following negative feedback, entity theorists demonstrated less sustained memory-related activity (left temporal negativity) to corrective information, suggesting reduced effortful conceptual encoding of this material-a strategic approach that may have contributed to their reduced error correction on a subsequent surprise retest. These results suggest that beliefs can influence learning success through top-down biasing of attention and conceptual processing toward goal-congruent information. The relevance of these results to error detection and correction in mathematics also will be discussed. In particular, we consider how individual beliefs and goals may interact with societal stereotypes regarding females' ability to perform well in the math domain.