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IES Grant

Title: Improving Academic Achievement by Teaching Growth Mindsets about Emotion
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Gross, James Awardee: Stanford University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 1/2 years (7/1/12-12/31/14) Award Amount: $1,048,201
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A120671

Co-Principal Investigator: Carol S. Dweck, Geoffrey L. Cohen

Purpose: Middle school represents a critical transition for students, and many students show a decline in academic achievement and emotional well-being during this time. At the same time, research suggests that students' beliefs about their ability to change their personal attributes play a key role in their academic achievement. While some students believe that personal attributes are fixed, those who believe their personal attributes are more malleable—students with a "growth mindset"—demonstrate superior academic performance. The purpose of this grant is to create an intervention designed to teach sixth- and seventh-graders' a growth mindset of emotion regulation, with the goal of improving academic performance.

Project Activities: Researchers will develop, refine, and test computer modules designed to teach students first, that emotions can be regulated and second, how to effectively regulate emotions. After the growth mindset modules are fully developed, the team will carry out a pilot study where students will be randomly assigned to participate in the intervention or receive a control intervention.

Products: A set of computer modules to teach students a growth mindset of emotion regulation. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Two school districts in California.

Sample: 120 middle school students will participate in the iterative development research. The pilot study will include 200 sixth- and seventh-grade students.

Intervention: The growth mindset of emotion regulation modules will teach students about emotional functioning, including what an emotion is, how to identify and differentiate their own emotions, where emotions are localized in the brain, and how to regulate emotions. The modules will be completed during two 45-minute sessions in the computer lab. In addition, to solidify their understanding, students will be asked to complete brief writing assignments that relate the material to their own lives.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will develop several versions of each module and carry out three iterative cycles of testing to determine which version works best. For example, one version of the emotional regulation modules will highlight the differences between suppression and reappraisal of emotions. Another version will only teach the positive strategy, reappraisal, without comparing it to the negative strategy of suppression. Versions will also vary in the complexity and depth of material as well as the sequence in which material is presented. For example, some versions will start with general information about the brain and others with information about emotions. Students will complete a short quiz to assess knowledge after completing each module, answer survey questions, and participate in individual interviews to provide feedback to researchers for use in revising the modules. Researchers will collect information on students' endorsement of a growth mindset of emotion regulation, their likelihood of using effective emotion regulation strategies, and their engagement with the material. The promise of the intervention will be assessed in a pilot study. Students will be randomly assigned to participate in either the treatment or control condition. Researchers will gather information about students' mindsets before and after participating in the intervention, as well as course grades and standardized test scores. In addition, the way the effects may be mediated by negative emotions, emotion regulation strategies, and working memory will be examined, as well as whether the intervention was more effective with particular groups of students.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will complete a set of modules on basics of the brain. These modules will include information on the anatomy of the brain and how memory is structured in the brain.

Key Measures: The key predictor measure is a researcher-developed assessment of growth mindsets of emotion regulation. Key outcome measures include detailed course grades and standardized test scores. Mediators include measures of negative emotion, reappraisal, suppression, and working memory.

Data Analytic Strategy: The primary analyses will use regression models to test whether the intervention significantly affects students' mindsets and achievement. The team will carry out mediation analyses to determine whether the relation between the treatment group (vs. control) and performance outcomes is significantly mediated by reappraisal and negative emotions/working memory. Secondary analyses will examine demographic variables to determine whether certain groups showed greater effects using these same tests.


Book chapter

Jacobs, S. E., and Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion Regulation in Education. In R. Pekrun and L. Linnenbrink-Garcia (Eds.), International Handbook of Emotions in Education, (pp. 183–217). New York, NY: Routledge.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Smith, E. N., Romero, C., Donovan, B., Herter, R., Paunesku, D., Cohen, G. L., ... and Gross, J. J. (2017). Emotion Theories and Adolescent Well-Being: Results of an Online Intervention. Emotion.