Theories of intelligence, goal orientation, and self-efficacy: Examining vulnerability to depression in Native American children and adolescents

Julie Elizabeth Lindsay
Dept. of Psychology, University of Wyoming
July, 2006


Numerous researchers have suggested the importance of goal systems in personality and social theory, especially as they pertain to development. Dweck and colleagues argue that beliefs about the nature of ability give rise to specific goal orientations that subsequently influence behavior (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). A belief that ability is something that is constant or unchangeable (referred to as an entity theory of intelligence) has been associated with a number of negative outcomes including helpless response patterns and less persistence on challenging tasks (see Dweck, 1999).

Although some research has investigated how theories of intelligence influence goal adoption and motivation, fewer studies have examined how theories of intelligence might influence depression via goal representations. Several studies have shown that theories of intelligence are associated with specific goal orientations and that these goal orientations can lead to mastery or helpless learning responses in both children and adolescents (Bempechat, London, & Dweck, 1991; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). However, these studies were done with adult largely white populations and none of these studies linked goal orientations to theories of intelligence.

Based on these gaps in the literature, this study investigated the applicability of Dweck's model cross-culturally with a sample of American Indian youth and extended previous work by examining the role of Dweck's model in predicting depressive symptoms among an American Indian sample. The current study had three main hypotheses: (1) an entity theory of intelligence would be associated with performance goals, (2) an incremental theory of intelligence would be associated with learning goals, and (3) in the context of failure, an entity theory of intelligence (or performance goals) combined with lower self-efficacy for academic tasks would predict increased symptoms of depression over time.

As anticipated, implicit theories of intelligence and goal orientation were significantly related at Time 1. Contrary to what the theory predicted, these constructs were more transient over time. Neither of the three-way interactions were significant. However, self-efficacy for academic tasks was significant in predicting depression at Time 2 after controlling for initial depression suggesting that belief in ability, not actual performance, is more salient for American Indian youth.