Birgit Spinath

Universität Heidelberg, Heidelburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

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Publications (50)60.21 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Background: Education is a key variable for reaching individually and socially desired outcomes. Specifically, school grades are important admission criteria for higher education and job positions. Nowadays, in countries committed to equal opportunities, girls obtain better school grades than boys, but the reasons why girls outperform boys are not well understood. In the following, individual student characteristics (i.e. intelligence, personality, motivation) were investigated as promising candidates that may account for gender differences in school performance.Purpose: This is a review of research findings on gender differences in performance-related individual students’ characteristics. These findings may help to explain differences in boys’ and girls’ school achievement. It was hypothesised that girls are better adapted to today’s school environment because of their intelligence (general, specific), personality (Big Five) and motivation (ability self-concept, interest or intrinsic values, goal orientations). To investigate this hypothesis, we reviewed literature with respect to five questions: (1) How strongly are intelligence, personality and motivation associated with school achievement? (2) Are there mean level differences between boys and girls in these characteristics? (3) Do these characteristics show gender differences in predicting school achievement? (4) Can gender differences in these characteristics explain the association between gender and school achievement? (5) Are gender differences in these characteristics causally related to differences in boys’ and girls’ school achievement?Sources of evidence: We mainly based our review on meta-analyses and literature reviews. If no meta-analyses or reviews were available, we reported results of representative single studies, including results from our own studies. To illustrate the magnitude of gender differences, we also reported statistical parameters (correlation coefficients, effect sizes and regression coefficients).Main argument: Concerning the five research questions, we found that, first, among the characteristics investigated here, general intelligence, ability self-concepts and self-discipline were the most important predictors of school performance. Second, gender differences in students’ individual characteristics varied from non-existent (e.g. general intelligence) to strong (e.g. self-discipline). Third, there was no indication that these characteristics were differently important for boys’ and girls’ school performance. Fourth, gender differences in intelligence, personality and motivation partially mediated the association between gender and school achievement but cannot fully explain it. Fifth, whether differences in intelligence, personality and motivation cause performance differences between boys and girls remains unknown because there were no studies that have investigated this question with designs that could test for causal inferences.Conclusion: Gender differences in students’ individual characteristics contribute to a significant extent to gender differences in school performance. Taken together, the effects of gender differences in students’ individual characteristics can partially but not fully account for gender differences in school performance. Girls are somewhat better adapted to today’s school environments, especially because of their better verbal intelligence, higher Agreeableness, stronger self-discipline, as well as certain aspects of their motivation. In light of these specific differences, it is argued that changing certain aspects of school environments might help boys to better succeed in school and, thus, reduce educational inequality.
    Educational Research 01/2014; 56(2). · 0.48 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The neural efficiency hypothesis describes the phenomenon that brighter individuals show lower brain activation than less bright individuals when working on the same cognitive tasks. The present study investigated whether the brain activation–intelligence relationship still applies when more versus less intelligent individuals perform tasks with a comparable person-specific task difficulty. In an fMRI-study, 58 persons with lower (n = 28) or respectively higher (n = 30) intelligence worked on simple and difficult inductive reasoning tasks having the same person-specific task difficulty. Consequently, less bright individuals received sample-based easy and medium tasks, whereas bright subjects received sample-based medium and difficult tasks. This design also allowed a comparison of lower versus higher intelligent individuals when working on the same tasks (i.e. sample-based medium task difficulty). In line with expectations, differences in task performance and in brain activation were only found for the subset of tasks with the same sample-based task difficulty, but not when comparing tasks with the same person-specific task difficulty. These results suggest that neural efficiency reflects an (ability-dependent) adaption of brain activation to the respective task demands.
    Intelligence 01/2014; 42:22–30. · 2.67 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The present study investigated the role that students' implicit theory of intelligence, achievement motives, and perceived competence jointly play as antecedents of their achievement goals and, as a consequence, of their intrinsic motivation and academic achievement. The sample consisted of 524 11th and 12th grade high-school students. Self-report measures were used to assess students' motivational characteristics and subsequent grade point average served as criterion for their academic achievement. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Incremental theory and perceived competence predicted mastery goals. Hope of success, fear of failure, and perceived competence predicted performance-approach goals. Fear of failure, but neither entity theory nor perceived competence predicted performance-avoidance goals. Students' achievement goals predicted their intrinsic motivation and academic achievement. Mediation analyses revealed meaningful indirect effects of students' distal motivational dispositions on intrinsic motivation and academic achievement via achievement goals. Implications for achievement goal theory and future research are discussed.
    Learning and Individual Differences 01/2013; 28:90–101. · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To study the role of students' competence beliefs and their perceived teachers' ability evaluations for intrinsic motivation and achievement in math, 459 second graders from 27 German classrooms were examined. Students provided self-reports on their intrinsic motivation, competence beliefs and perceived teachers' ability evaluations in math. Teachers gave insight in students' math grades. Relations were analyzed by three different models: a direct, an indirect and an interaction effect model. Concerning intrinsic motivation, results provided support for both an indirect effect and an interaction effect model, but not for a direct effect model. With regard to math achievement, only the indirect model appeared to be appropriate. The finding that perceived teachers' ability evaluations had an (indirect) effect on students' intrinsic motivation and achievement in math hints at the role of significant others in the development of children's academic functioning and might guide potential interventions.
    Learning and Individual Differences 08/2012; 22(4):518–522. · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The self-regulation of motivation represents a key feature of self-regulated learning. Recent studies have documented that students use a variety of strategies to sustain their learning motivation and that most of these strategies have positive effects. However, less is known about how students integrate the various motivational strategies into an individual motivational regulation profile and which kind of profiles are most adaptive with respect to enhanced effort and persistence. To shed more light on this issue, we examined the motivational regulation profiles within two samples of German high-school and college students. In Study 1 (N = 231 11th and 12th grade students), latent profile analysis revealed five subgroups of students holding different motivational regulation profiles. In Study 2 (N = 600 college students), the five class solution was replicated with slight changes in the nature of the profiles. In both studies, profiles with a higher overall level of motivational strategy use were associated with a higher level of effort and achievement. Regarding differences in profile shape, results indicated that profiles emphasizing mastery and/or performance-approach self-talk were most adaptive. Implications of the findings for future research on motivational regulation are discussed.
    Learning and Individual Differences 06/2012; 22(3):269–279. · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    Tanja Bipp, Ricarda Steinmayr, Birgit Spinath
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    ABSTRACT: Building on the notion that motivation energizes and directs resources in achievement situations, we argue that goal orientations affect perceptions of own intelligence and that the effect of goals on performance is partly mediated by self-estimates of intelligence. Studies 1 (n = 89) and 2 (n = 165) investigated the association of goal orientations and self-estimated intelligence in university-student samples. Study 3 (n = 164) tested an integrated model of goal orientations and self-estimated intelligence to predict school performance. Goal orientations explained 7 to 11% of the variance in self-estimated intelligence (controlling for gender, age, and psychometric intelligence). Persons with high performance-approach goals consistently overestimated and persons holding high performance-avoidance goals underestimated their intelligence. Performance goals affected academic performance indirectly via self-estimated intelligence, whereas learning goals were directly related to performance. Findings are discussed regarding their importance for the understanding of the function of motivation and ability self-perceptions for performance.
    Learning and Individual Differences 06/2012; 22(3):280–289. · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Much phenotypic research aims to identify which individual and familial characteristics explain individual differences in academic achievement. Behavior genetic studies can add informative value by analyzing the sources of this variation. The objective of the present study was to investigate the genetic and environmental origins of academic achievement and of two important and widely accepted predictors of school achievement, i.e. general cognitive ability (CA) and domain-specific self-perceived abilities (SPA). Results are based on cross-sectional data from the German twin study CoSMoS (97 MZ twin pairs, 183 DZ twin pairs; mean age 13.1years, SD=0.87). In line with previous research we confirmed the significance of genetic influences for all three variables, yielding heritability estimates between 30% and 62%. Multivariate genetic analyses further indicated that the genetic correlations between the variables were substantial and that SPAs in two school domains (German and Math) correlated with academic achievement for genetic rather than environmental reasons.
    Personality and Individual Differences 02/2012; 53:381-386. · 1.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Accession Number: 2012-04635-001. Publication Status: Online First Posting. First Author & Affiliation: Gottschling, Juliana. Release Date: 20120227. Publication Type: Journal, (0100); Peer Reviewed Journal, (0110); . Media Covered: Electronic. Language: English. Major Descriptor: No terms assigned. Classification: Personality Psychology (3100)
    Personality and Individual Differences 02/2012; · 1.88 Impact Factor
  • Sebastian Stehle, Birgit Spinath, Martina Kadmon
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    ABSTRACT: Relating students’ evaluations of teaching (SETs) to student learning as an approach to validate SETs has produced inconsistent results. The present study tested the hypothesis that the strength of association of SETs and student learning varies with the criteria used to indicate student learning. A multisection validity approach was employed to investigate the association of SETs and two different criteria of student learning, a multiple-choice test and a practical examination. Participants were N = 883 medical students, enrolled in k = 32 sections of the same course. As expected, results showed a strong positive association between SETs and the practical examination but no significant correlation between SETs and multiple-choice test scores. Furthermore, students’ subjective perception of learning significantly correlated with the practical examination score whereas no relation was found for subjective learning and the multiple choice test. It is discussed whether these results might be due to different measures of student learning varying in the degree to which they reflect teaching effectiveness.
    Research in Higher Education 01/2012; 53(8). · 1.39 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The present study aimed at contributing to the understanding of social disparities in relation to students’ academic achievement in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics domains. A sample of n = 321 German 11th graders completed measures of their family socio-economic status (SES), general intelligence, domain-specific ability self-concepts and subjective scholastic values in math, physics and chemistry. Students’ grades in these subjects received four months after testing served as criteria. Significant mediation effects were found for all motivational variables between fathers’ SES and students’ achievement, whereas for mothers’ SES, only children’s academic self-concept in chemistry was a significant mediator. These results also held when students’ general intelligence was controlled. Additionally, we controlled for students’ grades before testing to investigate which variables mediated the influence of SES on change in school performance. Motivational variables significantly mediated the influence of fathers’ SES on change in school performance in math but not in chemistry and physics. Intelligence significantly mediated the influence of fathers’ SES on change in school performance in physics and chemistry but not in mathematics. The impact of mothers’ SES on change in grades in chemistry was mediated by intelligence. Among others, the reasons potentially accounting for the differential influences of fathers’ and mothers’ SES are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
    European Journal of Personality 01/2012; 26(3):335-349. · 2.52 Impact Factor
  • Birgit Spinath, Ricarda Steinmayr
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    ABSTRACT: The present study investigated 3 theoretically plausible explanations for changes in school-related intrinsic motivation. A sample of 348 German 11th-grade students was followed for 1 year. At 2 measurement occasions, students completed self-reports regarding their school-related intrinsic motivation, goal orientations, and competence beliefs. In line with previous studies, cross-lagged analyses provided little evidence for the hypothesis that prior competence beliefs affect subsequent intrinsic motivation after controlling for prior intrinsic motivation. Considering goal orientations as a moderator did not change this result. Instead, learning goals, but not performance goals, directly predicted the change in students' intrinsic motivation, but not vice versa. Findings are discussed with regard to advancing motivation theory and practical implications. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
    Journal of Educational Psychology. 01/2012; 104(4):1135-1148.
  • Ricarda Steinmayr, Tanja Bipp, Birgit Spinath
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    ABSTRACT: Goal orientations are thought to be an important predictor of scholastic achievement. The present paper investigated the joint influence of goal orientations, intelligence, and personality on school performance in a sample of N = 520 11th and 12th graders (303 female; mean age M = 16.94 years). Intelligence, the Big Five factors of personality (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness) as well as goal orientations (learning, performance-approach, -avoidance, and work-avoidance goals) were assessed. When school performance was regressed on all variables simultaneously, intelligence, Openness to Experience, Conscientious, and learning goals predicted school performance. Learning goals additionally partially mediated the association of Openness to Experience and Conscientious, respectively, with GPA. Results are discussed with regard to the importance of goal orientations in academic settings.Research Highlights► Learning, performance-approach, and –avoidance goals predict GPA beyond intelligence. ► Learning goals predict GPA beyond intelligence and personality. ► Learning goals mediate the association between personality and GPA.
    Learning and Individual Differences 01/2011; 21(2):196-200. · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The reasons for the positive association between families' background variables, such as parents' education, and children's academic achievement have not fully been clarified yet. The present study investigates children's intelligence and personality as potential mediators. A sample of 580 German high school students (mean age: M = 17.0; SD = 0.7) indicated the highest education of their parents and completed measures assessing their own personality and intelligence. Children's academic achievement was operationalized by grade point average. Children's intelligence, openness to experience and, marginally, conscientiousness partially mediated the association between parents' education and children's academic achievement. Even after controlling for children's intelligence, the mediating effects of those personality traits held. Results are discussed with regard to potential underlying processes. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
    European Journal of Personality 09/2010; 24(6):535 - 550. · 2.44 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: This study investigates whether sex differences in school achievement in three domains are associated with sex differences in intelligence, personality and school-related motivation. In a sample of 1353 Austrian eight graders (552 males, 801 females; mean age 13.74 years, SD = .47), intelligence, the Big Five personality factors as well as domain-specific school anxiety, ability self-perceptions and interests were assessed as predictors of grades in German, Math and English. Most predictors yielded significant mean differences between sexes. Intelligence and ability self-perceptions were the strongest predictors of grades in all domains. In Math, additional predictors of grades were Conscientiousness and Neuroticism. Grades in German and English were also predicted by the interaction between sex and Extraversion. While for girls a higher level of Extraversion was associated with better grades, the opposite was true for boys. Only in German, there was an additional interaction between sex and verbal intelligence indicating that girls benefit even more than boys from a high level of verbal intelligence.
    Personality and Individual Differences 01/2010; 48(4):481-486. · 1.88 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Recently, different methodological approaches have been discussed as an explanation for inconsistencies in studies investigating sex differences in different intelligences. The present study investigates sex differences in manifest sum scores, factor score estimates, and latent verbal, numerical, figural intelligence, as well as fluid and crystallized intelligence as measured by the German Intelligence-Structure-Test 2000-R (IST 2000-R; Liepmann, Beauducel, Brocke, & Amthauer, 2007). The not population-representative sample consisted of 977 German 11th and 12th graders enrolled in a “Gymnasium” (551 female; mean age: M=16.70; SD=0.65) who completed the IST 2000-R. Sex differences in fluid and crystallized intelligence were not influenced by the method applied with men performing better than women. However, extent and direction of sex differences in verbal, numerical, and figural intelligence differed by the method applied. Whereas there was a male advantage in all three factors measured as manifest sum scores, women performed better in verbal intelligence as measured by factor scores or as latent variables. Effect sizes of sex differences in numerical and figural intelligence were also greatly reduced when applying the latter two methods. Results are discussed with regard to their theoretical and practical implications.
    Intelligence. 01/2010; 38(1):101-110.
  • Ricarda Steinmayr, Birgit Spinath
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    ABSTRACT: The two studies presented here were aimed at investigating the psychometric properties of a new scale assessing subjective task values in a school context (Skala zur Erfassung subjektiver schulbezogener Werte, SESSW). The instrument measures the three subjective task value components importance, utility, and intrinsic values, derived from the Eccles model, with regard to school in general and to the four specific school subjects mathematics, German, physics, and chemistry. The first study investigated a sample of N = 391 11th to 13th graders. The three subjective value components as well as the domain-specific structure of the instrument were demonstrated. Psychometric properties of the scales were good. Correlation patterns with corresponding school grades and ability self-concepts confirmed the convergent and discriminant validity of the instrument. Further validity aspects of the scales were shown by domain-specific gender differences. Moreover, results of the second study, investigating N = 243 11th graders, demonstrated the importance of subjective task values for predicting course choices. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
    Diagnostica. 01/2010; 56(4):195-211.
  • Biennial Meeting der International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID); 07/2009
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    ABSTRACT: It was assumed that the effect of motivational regulation strategies on achievement is mediated by effort management and moderated by intelligence. A sample of 231 11th and 12th grade German high-school students provided self-reports on their use of motivational regulation strategies and effort management and completed an intelligence test. Students' half-year grades (GPA) were assessed six months later. As expected, motivational regulation strategies were not directly related to GPA but showed positive effects on students' effort management which in turn predicted students' GPA. Intelligence and effort management were equally strong direct predictors of GPA. Also as expected, more intelligent students benefitted more from using some, but not all, motivational regulation strategies in terms of increased effort management. Implications of these findings regarding the effectiveness of motivational regulation strategies are discussed.
    Learning and Individual Differences 01/2009; 19(4). · 1.58 Impact Factor
  • Ricarda Steinmayr, Birgit Spinath
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    ABSTRACT: The present study examined to which extent different motivational concepts contribute to the prediction of school achievement among adolescent students independently from intelligence. A sample of 342 11th and 12th graders (age M=16.94; SD=.71) was investigated. Students gave self-reports on domain-specific values, ability self-perceptions, goals, and achievement motives. Hierarchical regression and relative weights analyses were performed with grades in math and German as dependent variables and intelligence as well as motivational measures as independent variables. Beyond intelligence, different motivational constructs incrementally contributed to the prediction of school achievement. Domain-specific ability self-perceptions and values showed the highest increments whereas achievement motives and goal orientations explained less additional variance. Even when prior achievement was controlled, some motivational concepts still proved to contribute to the prediction of subsequent performance. In the light of these findings, we discuss the importance of motivation in educational contexts.
    Learning and Individual Differences - LEARN INDIVID DIFFER. 01/2009; 19(1):80-90.
  • International Congress of Psychology (ICP); 07/2008

Publication Stats

245 Citations
60.21 Total Impact Points


  • 2005–2014
    • Universität Heidelberg
      • Institute of Psychology
      Heidelburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • 2006
    • King's College London
      • MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre
      London, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2003
    • Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
      • Department of Psychology
      Gießen, Hesse, Germany
    • Technische Universität Dortmund
      • Department of Psychology
      Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany