ABSTRACT: Believing is seeing: how people’s beliefs influence goals, emotions and behaviour.
Health care professionals work and learn in complex environments. Some are able to continue learning from their practice and the challenges it presents, whereas others refrain from investing more effort when faced with setbacks. This paper discusses a social cognitive model of motivation that helps to explain the different kinds of behaviour that emerge when individuals are confronted with challenges.
Self-theories (people’s theories on what competence is and means for the self) play a major role in establishing the goals people set for themselves, the emotions they experience and the meanings they attach to situations. These self-views are often not explicitly articulated and are therefore called ‘implicit’ (‘self-‘) theories. Social cognitive research suggests there are two distinct ways of thinking about one’s personal attributes: entity theorists view a trait as a fixed, concrete internal entity, whereas incremental theorists instead believe a trait to be something malleable that can be developed or cultivated through effort. Holding an entity theory leads one to set performance goals and to harbour concerns about performing well and making a good impression. Holding an incremental theory tends to lead one to set learning goals, and to focus less on performance and more on spending time and effort in determining which strategies work.
The current literature on self-theories is used to explore the relevance of these theories in medical education in three contexts: (i) it is argued that, in order to support lifelong learning, both individual and organisational efforts fit best with an incremental outlook on professional development; (ii) if it is to move forward in the domain of feedback-seeking behaviour, medical education might benefit from a better understanding of the interactions among self-theories, feedback behaviour, and the pervading role of organisational culture, and (iii) the impact of self-theories on assessors’ evaluations of performance.