The more people believe in the intellectual potential of others, the more likely they are to view education as a fundamental right, finds new research.
“Citizens’ support for education as a fundamental right is particularly critical given the far-reaching consequences of education for both individuals and nations,” said Krishna Savani, an associate professor of strategy, management, and organisation at Singapore’s Nanyang Business School, and Aneeta Rattan, an assistant professor of organisational behavior at the London Business School. “To be successful in the increasingly global, high-technology economy, people need to be highly skilled and able to innovate, which are nearly impossible to achieve if they do not receive a high-quality education.”
Their co-authored paper, titled, “Is Education a Fundamental Right? People’s Lay Theories About Intellectual Potential Drive Their Positions on Education,” appears in the July issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, consists of three studies focusing on a combined total of nearly 1,050 United States residents 18 years of age or older. Each study supports the hypothesis that people’s beliefs about the universality of intellectual potential underlie their position on education.
The first study found that the more people believed nearly everyone has high intellectual potential (a universal belief), the more likely they were to view education as a basic right. The second study replicated this relationship and found that the more people viewed education as a right, the more they supported continued public investment in education, the more concerned they were upon learning that students in the U.S. were performing worse academically than students in peer nations, and the more they supported redistributing public education funding more equitably across wealthier and poorer school districts.
“Education is one of the core engines of economic mobility,” said Savani and Rattan, who co-authored the paper Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “But, if people don’t see others as having intellectual potential, they are less likely to view education as a fundamental right, and so they are more open to withdrawing financial support for it.”
While the first two studies relied on surveys of more than 200 and 400 people respectively, the third study had a slightly different design. The researchers set up an experiment in which they provided the more than 400 study participants with an article that described “scientific evidence” arguing that either nearly everyone or only some people have high intellectual potential. The survey asked the participants to read their article and then answer a question about how much they agreed with what they read using a seven-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “extremely.” Finally, they answered questions identical to those from the survey in the second study to measure their support for reducing public investment in education and concern with students’ poor academic outcomes.
“Our third study provided experimental evidence for the idea that compared with people exposed to the idea that only some individuals have high intellectual potential, those exposed to the idea that nearly everyone has high intellectual potential were more likely to construe education as a fundamental right,” Savani and Rattan said. “People in study three who were more likely to view education as a right, in turn, were more opposed to reducing public investment in education and were more concerned about students’ poor academic outcomes.”
In terms of the paper’s policy implications, Rattan and Savani said that if policymakers want to encourage support for public education, ensure that public education is high quality, and address resource inequality in schools, they should promote the idea that people have high intellectual potential.
“Citizens and policymakers need to think about what kind of society they want to live in — one that believes all children have potential and deserve a good education or one that does not,” Savani and Rattan said. “That’s really what is at stake here.”
About the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
With over 7500 members, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) is the largest organisation of social psychologists and personality psychologists. SPSP’s mission is to produce and disseminate knowledge about personality and social psychology, facilitate the careers of students and professionals, and recognise and promote achievements in personality and social psychology. The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal for SPSP.
About the author
Krishna Savani is an Associate Professor of Strategy, Management, and Organisation at Nanyang Business School, NTU. Team members in this research include Monica Wadhwa of INSEAD, Yukiko Uchida of Kyoto University, Yu Ding of the National University of Singapore (currently at Columbia University), and N. V. R. Naidu of M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bangalore.