Implicit theories of intelligence
Implicit theories are the unconsious assumptions we hold about the world around us. We have implicit theories on everything from height to personality. My thesis research focuses on implicit theories of intelligence. There are two primary implicit theories of intelligence: entity and increment. Individuals with an entity theory of intelligence believe that intelligence is a fixed entity: each person has a set amount. Individuals with an increment theory believe that intelligence is malleable, it can change. Implicit theories matter because these beliefs in turn affect behavior. Entity theorists are more likely to seek revenge, avoid challenges, and when they fail it hurts their future performance. On the other hand, increment theorists are more likely to negotiate, tend to pursue challenges, and are resilient to failure.
Though the connection between beliefs and behavior is interesting, my passion is science education. The thing is, implicit theories themselves can change, and one of the things that has been shown to change them is teaching people that their brain is like a muscle, it gets stronger when you use it. The science behind that statement is neuroplasticity, the umbrella term describing how the brain is deeply adaptive and capable of change at the molecular, synaptic, and cellular levels.
Once I realized that by teaching science I could [potentially] affect the beliefs that change behavior, I decided to build an eLearning Module teaching the science of neuroplasticity for a general adult audience. Guided by the principles of cognitive load theory, I used simple iconic illustrations to help my users get the lay of the land. Three interactive scenes built in the Unity game engine allow the user to dynamically interact as they learn about dynamic processes. Finally, I included some actual imaging data to provide a sense of real-world scale and complexity.
Note: What makes this a thesis?
As part of the UIC BVIS program, we had the choice between "project research" and "thesis." Both involve completion of a research project relevant to our field of biomedical visualization. The thesis track, though, has a significant emphasis on original research. In practice, that meant more credit hours, earlier deadlines, and the expectation of statistically significant data gathered by verified assessments to answer clear research questions. I have successfully defended the study, and am very excited to share the final conclusions. Right now I am exploring the best venue to do so.