Academic self-concept is a central factor that affects various psychological and behavioral outcomes. Students compare their academic achievement across social (How good am I at this compared to my classmates?), temporal (How good am I compared to how I was?), and dimensional (How good am I in math compared to English?) domains. A meta-analysis of 505 datasets (n=572,718) gathered findings on social and dimensional comparisons concerning achievement and academic self-concept in mathematical and verbal subjects.
An important consequence of the dimensional construct is that as students develop positive self-concepts around particular subjects, they may develop negative self-concepts around those on the other end of the math-verbal continuum. Strengthening self-concept in math or science leads to weaker self-concept in reading and writing, and vice versa. Students who realize they excel in math may mentally diminish their skill in reading–they become ‘math’ people. Interestingly, this balancing act of math-verbal abilities does not align with the evidence:
- Math and verbal skills are not mutually exclusive.
- On the contrary, ability in verbal and math subjects was positively correlated.
- Through such dimensional comparisons, talented students may develop only an average self-concept in their worst subject, even though their performance in this subject is well above the average performance of their peers.