Teachers’ belief that math requires innate ability predicts lower intrinsic motivation among low-achieving students

Anke Heyder, Anne F. Weidinger, Andrei Cimpian, Ricarda Steinmayr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Many students find math difficult, but those who are intrinsically motivated learn and do well even when they face obstacles. Here, we examine an environmental factor that might affect students' intrinsic motivation in math: namely, teachers' beliefs about success in math. Do teachers perceive elementary school math as a domain that requires an innate ability, and does this belief relate to students' intrinsic motivation in math? Our study explored these questions in a sample of 830 German fourth graders and their 56 teachers. Teachers reported stronger beliefs in the role of innate ability for math than for German language arts. In addition, the more teachers believed that math requires innate ability, the lower was the intrinsic motivation of their low-achieving students. These results suggest that teachers’ beliefs that math success depends on innate ability may be an important obstacle to creating a classroom atmosphere that fosters engagement and learning for all students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101220
JournalLearning and Instruction
StatePublished - Feb 2020



  • Domain-specific ability beliefs
  • Elementary school
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Mindset
  • Teachers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this