WWC review of this study

Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale [Experiment 2]

Yeager, D. S., Walton, G. M., Brady, S. T., Akcinar, E. N., Paunesku, D., Keane, L., Kamentz, D., Ritter, G., Duckworth, A. L., Urstein, R., Gomez, E. M., Markus, H. R., Cohen, G. L., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(24), E3341-E3348.

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    3,837
     Students
    , grade
    PS

Reviewed: October 2021

At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards without reservations
College enrollment outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

College Enrollment Full Time - Fall Semester

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2);
3,837 students

90.00

89.00

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

College Enrollment Full Time - Fall Semester

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Disadvantaged students;
1,406 students

88.00

85.00

No

--

Continuous full-time enrollment, first year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Disadvantaged students;
1,406 students

76.00

72.00

No

--

Continuous full-time enrollment, first year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs. Control (Experiment 2) ;
3,837 students

80.00

78.00

No

--

Continuous full-time enrollment, first year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Advantaged students;
2,431 students

82.00

81.00

No

--

College Enrollment Full Time - Fall Semester

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Advantaged students;
2,431 students

91.00

92.00

No

--
Progressing in college outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

College credits earned: Semester 1

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2);
3,837 students

88.00

87.00

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

College credits earned: Semester 1

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Disadvantaged students;
1,406 students

86.00

82.00

Yes

 
 
7

College credits earned in first college year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Disadvantaged students;
1,406 students

74.00

69.00

Yes

 
 
6

College credits earned in first college year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs control (Experiment 2);
3,837 students

77.00

75.00

No

--

College credits earned: Semester 1

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Advantaged students;
2,431 students

90.00

90.00

No

--

College credits earned in first college year

Growth Mindset vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Growth mindset vs. control (Experiment 2): Advantaged students;
2,431 students

79.00

79.00

No

--


Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

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    Texas
  • Race
    Asian
    18%
    Black
    5%
    Other or unknown
    31%
    White
    46%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    24%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    76%

Setting

The study took place at a public university in Texas. Incoming students reviewed pre-orientation materials online—including text that served as the intervention—one week before arriving on campus for the full orientation.

Study sample

Across the 7,343 students in the analytic sample that included all four study conditions, 46% were White, 18% were Asian, 5% were Black, and race was not specified for 31% of the sample. Twenty-four percent were Hispanic. Approximately 17% were first-generation college students and 83% were continuing-generation.

Intervention Group

In an online session lasting approximately 30 minutes, students in the Growth Mindset intervention group read an article summarizing research showing that the brain is malleable and that intelligence can grow if students exert effort when facing a challenge. Next, students read stories from upper-class students that described how they had overcome early struggles in college. These stories conveyed messages that initial struggles in college, such as receiving low grades, getting critical feedback from a professor, or having difficulty with the college bureaucracy do not imply that a student is “dumb” or unprepared for college; rather, these challenges suggest that students may learn more effective study strategies by asking for help and that the “knowing how” part of their brain was still developing. Finally, students wrote an essay, to be shared with other first-year students facing struggles, that described how these messages applied to their own experience adjusting to college.

Comparison Group

In an online session lasting approximately 30 minutes, students in the comparison group read stories from upper-class students that described how they had adapted to the physical environment on campus and in the surrounding city. Next, students wrote an essay, an essay, to be shared with other first-year students facing struggles, about how students adjust to college.

Support for implementation

The university embedded the study materials within a set of online, pre-orientation tasks required of incoming students, such as reviewing the university honor code, health care requirements, and course registration procedures. To help ensure that students read the materials carefully, each web page had a timer that prevented students from advancing to the next page until a minimum amount of time had elapsed. The study materials were framed as information about the “university mindset,” and an opportunity to learn from older students’ experience with the transition to college. Study materials informed students that their essays could be shared, anonymously, to help future students cope with the transition to college.

Reviewed: October 2021

No statistically significant positive
findings
Meets WWC standards without reservations
College enrollment outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Attempted 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Socially disadvantaged;
1,386 students

88.00

85.00

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

Attempted 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially disadvantaged;
1,386 students

75.00

72.00

No

--

Attempted 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Full sample;
3,808 students

90.00

89.00

No

--

Attempted 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially advantaged;
2,422 students

83.00

81.00

No

--

Attempted 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Full sample;
3,808 students

80.00

78.00

No

--

Attempted 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Socially advantaged;
2,422 students

92.00

92.00

No

--
Progressing in college outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
    index
Evidence
tier

Earned 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Socially disadvantaged;
1,386 students

85.00

82.00

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

Earned 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially disadvantaged;
1,386 students

72.00

69.00

No

--

Earned 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Full sample;
3,808 students

77.00

75.00

No

--

Earned 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Full sample;
3,808 students

88.00

87.00

No

--

Earned 12+ credits per semester

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially advantaged;
2,422 students

80.00

79.00

No

--

Earned 12+ credits

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

1 Semester

Socially advantaged;
2,422 students

89.00

90.00

No

--


Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Race
    Asian
    18%
    Black
    5%
    Other or unknown
    31%
    White
    46%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    24%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    76%

Setting

The intervention was completed individually by students online between May and July 2012 prior to their freshman year. All students were freshmen at a four-year public university.

Study sample

Among the total sample assigned to the four groups in Experiment 2, 46% were White, 18% were Asian, 5% were Black, and race was not specified for 31% of the sample. Twenty-four percent of students were Hispanic. Approximately 83% of students were continuing-generation students and 17% were first-generation students. The socially disadvantaged students that were the subject of this review included Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and first-generation students. The breakdown by group was not available for this sample.

Intervention Group

The Social Belonging intervention was designed to overcome the myth that only disadvantaged students experience difficulty and question their belonging in college. The intervention shared stories showing that everyone worries early on, and that all students can overcome these challenges over time. The intervention was conducted online in each student’s home the summer before their freshman year in college. Students reviewed survey results from older students that indicated that initially most college students worry about whether they belong, and this is true regardless of race, gender, or other background characteristics—and that these worries decrease over time when students develop social relationships with other students in their school. After reviewing the survey results, students reviewed stories from upper-year students describing these same ideas. After reading these stories, students were asked to write two brief essays about: (1) why students often initially feel uncertain about whether they belong in college based on their own experiences, and (2) how these concerns about belonging are likely to decrease over time as students adjust to college life. Students were told that their essays might be shared with other future students. The entire intervention was expected to take approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Comparison Group

Students in the comparison group participated in a similar reading and writing exercise, but the materials focused on students’ adjustment to the physical rather than social environment in college, such as the weather and the campus.

Support for implementation

The university included the intervention materials in a set of online pre-orientation tasks required of all incoming first year students (such as reviewing how to register for courses, the university honor code, and health care resources on campus). One week prior to attending an on-campus orientation, the university emailed a link to this list of online tasks to all incoming first year students. The intervention materials appeared immediately after students read about the university's required vaccinations and were described as information about the "university mindset."

 

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