Message from the Director: What’s Wrong With Being Confident?

An appealing refrain plus a catchy tune find their way into our heads and often stick.  This is exactly what happened to me during a recent Zumba class when the refrain, “What’s wrong with being confident” from Demi Lovato’s song “Confident” started. During Zumba, my thoughts are typically absorbed with upcoming Belin-Blank Center programs or events, the director’s message, or a research project.  These thoughts often flit from one to the next and back and forth like a moth in a room with lights on opposite sides of the space.  It’s no big surprise that these simple words, with the subtle, yet profound message, infiltrated my mind.

First I thought about two special events hosted in March.  The month started with the highly successful, Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), at which 13 high school students confidently presented their research findings to an audience of nearly 200 teachers and students from around Iowa and 5 were selected to attend the National JSHS.  We finished March with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Recognition Ceremony, where Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mentions from Iowa were recognized for their creativity.

How wonderful to meet these young, talented, creative, and confident students and – for both programs — to have the support from the national offices of these long-running, prestigious recognition programs.

Everything that we do at the Belin-Blank Center is designed to nurture potential and inspire excellence and thereby support the development of self-confidence. We live up to our tagline through well-established programs and service as well as through new, innovative programming:

“Confidence” is a longish song, one reason it’s good for a Zumba warm up!  My thoughts jumped to a current research project, based upon previous Belin-Blank Center research findings that investigated the differences in the attributions boys make for success in math or science compared to girls.

The answer to the research question “What attributions do gifted boys and girls make for success – and failure—in math and science?” was juxtaposed with Lovato’s words and appealing tune: “What’s wrong with being confident?”

The respondents in the study were asked to choose among ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty as attributions for success and failure. Ability and effort were overwhelmingly the two categories selected (these two attributional choices accounted for 75% or more of the responses for success in math or science). However, the two choices with the highest percentages for ability for both math and science varied significantly for boys and girls: 44% of the boys chose ability as their reason for their success in math and 42.5% made the same choice for their success in science. The next highest choice for boys was effort, 32% and 37%, respectively. Girls’ choices, however, varied significantly from boys: 26% of girls chose ability as the attribution for their success in math and 23% chose ability as their attribution for success in science. Nearly twice as many girls (50%) chose effort as their attribution for success in math and more than twice as many (55%) chose effort as their attribution for success in science.

Attributional research is but one facet of the complex topic known broadly as motivation, an area that is extremely important to our understanding of patterns that could impact, positively or negatively, the performance of students. Attribution theory represents a well-researched cognitive model. However, despite its relevance to our understanding of gifted students, attributional research specifically investigating the beliefs that gifted students have for their academic successes and failures has not been thoroughly researched.  Results from the study mentioned above are much more extensive than reported here; however, they are the foundation for a new investigation of attributional choice regarding success and failure from a current generation of students.

For educators and psychologists to be effective in designing curricular or counseling interventions, it is important to know an individual’s motivational mindset. It is also important for society to recognize these mindsets. As we concluded a decade ago, “We see potential negatives for girls [or boys] who do not accurately recognize their academic abilities. They may be more tentative about undertaking challenges or putting themselves in competitive situations” (Assouline et al., 2006, p. 293).

These findings, along with our new research, lead back to the question: What’s wrong with being confident?

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