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their ontogenesis in the realm of school culture

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Schooling, cognitive development and social
representations of intelligence:
Their ontogenesis
in the realm of school culture
VirgГ­lio Amaral
Felice Carugati
Patrizia Selleri
AbГ­lio Oliveira
VIII International Conference on Social Representations
Rome, Aug 2006
Theoretical References -
п‚„ Intelligence is a social and psychological phenomenon traditionally studied by
explicit/ “scientific” theories, but also implicit theories have become a
subject of interest since de 80’s (e.g. Sternberg et al. 1981; Sternberg, 1985;
Mugny & Carugati, 1985).
We can identify three main approaches to the study of implicit theories of
intelligence in children and adolescents:
a strictly cognitive-developmental approach, inspired in Piagetian theory, without
taking account the socio-cultural context of children’s developmental processes;
the “theory of personal conceptions of intelligence”, which identify only two
dimensions (static and dynamic);
and a multi-dimensional analysis, linked to the theory of social representations
(e.g. Carugati, 1990 a. b.)
Theoretical References -
п‚„ Our study about social representations of intelligence in children and
adolescents is based in the previous results of exploratory research in Italy
(Carugati, Selleri & Bison, 1994) and Portugal (Amaral, Vala & Carugati, 2004),
with children and adolescents of both sexual categories.
 The notions of cognitive ontogenesis (Piaget, 1978) and of the “social”
ontogenesis of social representations (Duveen & Lloyd, 1990; Duveen & De
Rosa, 1992) inspire our research about the effects of cognitive development,
academic performance, conceptions of intelligence as “natural gift” (Mugny &
Carugati, 1985) and gender variables in the social construction of the notion of
Main Objectives of the Empirical Investigation
 1. Analysing the effects of cognitive development in children’s and adolescent’s
representations of intelligence
 2. Analysing the gender effect on children’s and adolescent’s representations of
п‚„ 3. Analysing the effects of academic performance on representations of intelligence
 4. Analysing the effects of the conceptionof intelligence as “natural gift” on
representations of intelligence
п‚„ Based in previous results (Carugati, Selleri & Bison, 1994; Amaral, Vala &
Carugati, 2004), we formulated the following hypotheses:
H1 –
“Concrete” subjects stress studying and schooling in
their representations, whilst “formal” subjects stress cognitive dimensions
and extra-curricular interests
H2 –
The youngest subjects show more tautological explanations
of intelligence than the oldest
H3 –
Girls stress studying and motivation in their representations,
and boys stress cognitive abilities
H4 –
Girls refers more to altruism than boys
H5 –
Creativity and social sensibility are more prominent
in girl’s representations, whilst virility stands out more
in boy’s representations.
(Subjects, Instrument, Procedure, Variables)
Population: 493 portuguese pupils of both sexes in the classical piagetian “concrete”
and “formal” periods, and in a “transition” period between concrete and formal stages,
was given a structured questionnaire with 56 items
(based in the results of the qualitative and exploratory studies)
dependent variables - the representational dimensions of intelligence (previously found);
independent variables - gender, cognitive levels, academic performance (in an exploratory
way) and “conception of intelligence as natural gift” - considered as a potential
socio-cognitive principle of organization of specific representations (Mugny & Carugati,
1985; Raty & Snellman, 1995)
(Splitting the sample in two categories: “Gift” – or pupils confident in intelligence as gif – and “Non Gift”
– or pupils not confident in intelligence as gift).
Socio-cultural background of subjects was considered as a co-variable.
- Social Representations (SR) of intelligence
п‚„ SR of intelligence
( 5 main factors/dimensions )
Studying/motivation (ex. “intelligent people have better marks on school because
they study much more than others)
Cognitive abilities (ex. Intelligent people are better at mathematics because they
understand more quickly”)
“Social intelligence”
(in terms of altruistic behaviours: “helping others is an intelligent act”))
Representation intelligence “as a natural gift” (ex. “one is born intelligent because we
already have some abilities at birth”)
Representation of intelligence in terms of “culture/knowledge” (ex. The more culture
one is, the more intelligent one is”)
- SR of intelligence
Other complementary dimensions:
“Procedural knowledge”
(corresponding to scripts of everyday routines: “to be intelligent is know how to do things, such as
putting a video tape on, etc.”)
“Tautological thinking”
(Intelligent people remember better and more things because they are intelligent”)
“Social Intelligence”
(in terms of socially desirable rules behaviour)
Masculinity and intelligence
(linking intelligence to the practice of sports)
Femininity and intelligence
(linking intelligence to sensibility to arts)
“Adolescent interests”
(Item in the negative: “going to the cinema or listening music has nothing to do with intelligence”),
Biological explanations of intelligence
(item “intelligent people remember better and more things because they have more space in their
Effects of the independent variables:
Some Results and Discussion
MANCOVA shows:
effects of cognitive level, conception of “intelligence as gift” and
academic performance, no effects of gender were observed
(and so it does not confirm H3, H4 and H5 )
ANOVAs show:
“Formal” subjects consider that intelligence develops in accordance with
extra-school and adolescent interests, and youngest subjects (“concrete”
and“transition”) valuate more the studying and academic knowledge
(in accordance with the school definitions of intelligence),
what confirm H1 and exemplify the process of “social” ontogenesis of SR
in Duveen and Lloyd’s terms
(symbolic contents of school definitions of intelligence are assimilated by the youngest children)
Effects of the independent variables:
Some Results and Discussion
ANOVAs show:
“Concrete” children are more confident in biological explanation of
intelligence, in contrast with formal subjects - this can be explained:
. by a progressive “decentration” throughout cognitive development of intellectual
operations on “perceived” concrete elements, as in this case the “brain” size;
. in terms of the effects of the cognitive ontogenesis of the representations of
the notion of “intelligence”
Tautological explanations of intelligence characterises the representations of
“concrete” subjects . this confirm H2 and the theoretical considerations of Berger and Luckman (1966)
about the role of tautology as a way of legitimization of “symbolic universes” (or SR)
corresponding to pre-theoretical explanations that characterizes the SR of constructed
on a level of early development
Effects of the independent variables:
Some Results and Discussion
ANOVAs show:
Tautological explanations also characterises the representations of
academically unsuccessful pupils . as they are school repeaters, they are accommodated in the peer culture of younger subjects:
in fact, as it is showed by Biggs and Collis (1982), subjects less sophisticated in representations
of school learning underline tautological conceptions of knowledge
The so called “gift” confident pupils underline the Gift representational
dimension – as should be expected – but also the “Cognitive Abilities”
(good memory, good mathematics understanding, rapidity in understanding well, etc.) . this is consistent with other results in the field of SR of intelligence with adults
(Mugny & Carugati, 1985; Carugati, Selleri & Scapinni, 1994; Raty & Snellman, 1995)
and children (Carugati, Selleri & Bison, 1994), and so
. it is plausible to interpret the overall figure – relation between “gift theory” (or conception of
intelligence as a “natural gift”) and valorisation of the “Cognitive intelligence” –
in terms of a kind of “genuine intelligence” for the “gift theorists” (Raty & Snellman, 1995)
Some Comments/Conclusions
. The fact of some of our hypotheses were not confirmed – namely the related with gender
effects – can be explained by the differences of methodologies used in the qualitative and
exploratory studies, giving that in present research it was used a more imposing – and less
“free” – methodology
. The pertinence of Piaget’s classical development theory to identify and explain the
different social representations in the course of human development
. The considerations of Berger and Luckman (1966) about the nature of “common-sense
thinking” in children are very relevant in the field of research of the development of SR
. The concept of ontogenesis proposed by Duveen and Lloyd (1990) appears to be very
applicable and interesting, namely to understand the symbolic contents of SR
. The “theory” of intelligence as a “natural gift” seems to be a socio-cognitive organizer
principle of a kind of “genuine” – or gift and merely cognitive – intelligence, as Raty and
Snellman (1994) observed.
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