WWC review of this study

Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale [Experiment 3]

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 
    1,592
     Students
    , grade
    PS

Reviewed: October 2021

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

First year GPA

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially disadvantaged;
205 students

3.39

3.33

No

--
More Outcomes
Show Supplemental Findings

First year GPA

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Full sample;
804 students

3.55

3.55

No

--

First year GPA

Social Belonging vs. Business as usual

2 Semesters

Socially advantaged;
599 students

3.60

3.62

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
    25%
    Black
    7%
    Native American
    5%
    Other or unknown
    11%
    White
    52%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic    
    11%
    Not Hispanic or Latino    
    89%

Setting

The intervention was completed individually by students online in summer 2012 prior to their freshman year. All students were freshmen at a highly selective, private university.

Study sample

Among the total sample assigned to the four groups in Experiment 3, 52% were White, 25% were Asian, 7% were Black, and 5% were Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaskan Native. Eleven percent were Hispanic. This sample included 87% of students who were continuing-generation students and 13% of students who 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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