Suspensions remove students from the learning environment at high rates throughout the United States. Policy and theory highlight social groups that face disproportionately high suspension rates—racial-minoritized students, students with a prior suspension, and students with disabilities. We used an active placebo-controlled, longitudinal field experiment (Nteachers = 66, Nstudents = 5822) to test a scalable “empathic-mindset” intervention, a 45- to 70-min online exercise to refocus middle school teachers on understanding and valuing the perspectives of students and on sustaining positive relationships even when students misbehave. In preregistered analyses, this exercise reduced suspension rates especially for Black and Hispanic students, cutting the racial disparity over the school year from 10.6 to 5.9 percentage points, a 45% reduction. Significant reductions were also observed for other groups of concern. Moreover, reductions persisted through the next year when students interacted with different teachers, suggesting that empathic treatment with even one teacher in a critical period can improve students’ trajectories through school.
Broad-access institutions play a democratizing role in American society, opening doors to many who might not otherwise pursue college. Yet these institutions struggle with persistence and completion. Do feelings of nonbelonging play a role, particularly for students from groups historically disadvantaged in higher education? Is belonging relevant to students’ persistence—even when they form the numerical majority, as at many broad-access institutions? We evaluated a randomized intervention aimed at bolstering first-year students’ sense of belonging at a broad-access university (N = 1,063). The intervention increased the likelihood that racial-ethnic minority and first-generation students maintained continuous enrollment over the next two academic years relative to multiple control groups. This two-year gain in persistence was mediated by greater feelings of social and academic fit one-year post-intervention. Results suggest that efforts to address belonging concerns at broad-access, majority-minority institutions can improve core academic outcomes for historically disadvantaged students at institutions designed to increase college accessibility.
Could mitigating persistent worries about belonging in the transition to college improve adult life for black Americans? To examine this question, we conducted a long-term follow-up of a randomized social-belonging intervention delivered in the first year of college. This 1-hour exercise represented social and academic adversity early in college as common and temporary. As previously reported in Science, the exercise improved black students’ grades and well-being in college. The present study assessed the adult outcomes of these same participants. Examining adult life at an average age of 27, black adults who had received the treatment (versus control) exercise 7 to 11 years earlier reported significantly greater career satisfaction and success, psychological well-being, and community involvement and leadership. Gains were statistically mediated by greater college mentorship. The results suggest that addressing persistent social-psychological concerns via psychological intervention can shape the life course, partly by changing people’s social realities.
Psychologically “wise” interventions can cause lasting improvement in key aspects of people’s lives, but where will they work and where will they not? We consider the psychological affordance of the social context: Does the context in which the intervention is delivered afford the way of thinking offered by the intervention? If not, treatment effects are unlikely to persist. Change requires planting good seeds (a more adaptive perspective) in fertile soil in which that seed can grow (a context with appropriate affordances). We illustrate the role of psychological affordances in diverse problem spaces, including recent large-scale trials of growth-mindset and social-belonging interventions designed specifically to understand heterogeneity across contexts. We highlight how the study of psychological affordances can advance theory about social contexts and inform debates about replicability.
This article reports findings from the largest-ever randomized controlled trial of a growth mindset program in the United States in K-12 settings. The study combined a test for cause-and-effect (a randomized experiment) with a sample that enables claims about an entire population (a nationally representative probability sample). The study found that a short (less than one hour), online growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual abilities can be developed—improved grades among lower-achieving students and increased enrollment in advanced mathematics courses among both higher- and lower-achieving students in a nationally representative sample of regular public high schools in the United States. Notably, the study identified school contexts that moderated the effects of the growth mindset intervention: the intervention had a stronger effect on grades when peer norms aligned with the messages of the intervention. In addition to its rigorous design, the study also featured independent data collection and processing, pre-registration of analyses, and corroboration of results by a blinded Bayesian analysis.
tags: growth mindset
High rates of discipline citations predict adverse life outcomes, a harm disproportionately borne by Black and Latino boys. We hypothesized that these citations arise in part from negative cycles of interaction between students and teachers, which unfold in contexts of social stereotypes. Can targeted interventions to facilitate identity safety—a sense of belonging, inclusion, and growth—for students help? Experiment 1 combined social-belonging, values-affirmation, and growth-mindset interventions delivered in several class sessions in 2 middle schools with a large Latino population (N = 669). This treatment reduced citations among negatively stereotyped boys in 7th and 8th grades by 57% as compared with a randomized control condition. A growth-mindset only treatment was also effective. Experiment 2 tested the social-belonging intervention alone, a grade earlier, at a third school with a large Black population and more overall citations (N = 137 sixth-grade students). In 2 class sessions, students reflected on stories from previous 7th-grade students, which represented worries about belonging and relationships with teachers early in middle school as normal and as improving with time. This exercise reduced citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65%. Suggesting improved interactions with teachers, longitudinal analyses found that the intervention prevented rises in citations involving subjective judgments (e.g., “insubordination”) within 6th and 7th grades. It also forestalled the emergence of worries about being seen stereotypically by the end of 7th grade. Identity threat can give rise to cycles of interaction that are maladaptive for both teachers and students in school; targeted exercises can interrupt these cycles to improve disciplinary outcomes over years.
In this paper, the authors provide a comprehensive theoretical review and organization of a psychologically informed approach to social problems, one that encompasses a wide-range of interventions and applies to diverse problem areas. The authors review more than 325 intervention studies with an eye towards people's psychological meaning-making related to the interventions. In other words, they examine how people make meaning of themselves, other people, and social situations; how deleterious meanings can arise from social and cultural contexts; how interventions to change meanings can help people flourish; and how initial change can become embedded to alter the course of people’s lives. They further describe how this approach relates to and complements other prominent approaches to social reform, which emphasize not subjective meaning-making but objective change in situations or in the habits and skills of individuals.
In this chapter from the revised Handbook of Competence and Motivation, the authors offer a definition of belonging that goes beyond personal relationships to consider a set of implicit worries, questions and inferences that arise for individuals about the quality of fit between themselves and a given setting. The authors provide an overview of the evidence base and literature on belonging.
Light-touch social psychological interventions have gained considerable attention for their potential to improve academic outcomes for underrepresented and/or disadvantaged students in postsecondary education. While findings from previous interventions have demonstrated positive effects for racial and ethnic minority and first-generation students in small samples, few interventions have been implemented at a larger scale with more heterogeneous student populations. To address this research gap, 7,686 students, representing more than 90% of incoming first-year students at a large Midwestern public university, were randomly assigned to an online growth mindset intervention, social belonging intervention, or a comparison group. Results suggest that after the fall semester, the growth mindset intervention significantly improved grade point averages for Latino/a students by about .40 points. This represents a 72% reduction in the GPA gap between White and Latino/a students. Further, this effect was replicated for both spring semester GPA and cumulative GPA. These findings indicate that light-touch interventions may be a minimally invasive approach to improving academic outcomes for underrepresented students. The findings also highlight the complexity of implementing customized belonging interventions in heterogeneous contexts.
People are often told to find their passion as though passions and interests are pre-formed and must simply be discovered. This idea, however, has hidden motivational implications. Five studies examined implicit theories of interest—the idea that personal interests are relatively fixed (fixed theory) or developed (growth theory). Whether assessed or experimentally induced, a fixed theory was more likely to dampen interest in areas outside people’s existing interests (Studies 1–3). Those endorsing a fixed theory were also more likely to anticipate boundless motivation when passions were found, not anticipating possible difficulties (Study 4). Moreover, when engaging in a new interest became difficult, interest flagged significantly more for people induced to hold a fixed than a growth theory of interest (Study 5). Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.
This response letter outlines the difference between authentic replication of psychological studies and inauthentic attempts that may not accurately represent the full study it's attempting to replicate.
Previous experiments have shown that college students benefit when they understand that challenges in the transition to college are common and improvable and, thus, that early struggles need not portend a permanent lack of belonging or potential. Could such an approach—called a lay theory intervention—be effective before college matriculation? The lay theory interventions raised first-year full-time college enrollment among students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds exiting a high-performing charter high school network or entering a public flagship university (experiments 1 and 2) and, at a selective private university, raised disadvantaged students’ cumulative first-year grade point average (experiment 3). These gains correspond to 31–40% reductions of the raw (unadjusted) institutional achievement gaps between students from disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged backgrounds at those institutions. Further, follow-up surveys suggest that the interventions improved disadvantaged students’ overall college experiences, promoting use of student support services and the development of friendship networks and mentor relationships.
Growing suspension rates predict major negative life outcomes, including adult incarceration and unemployment. The first experiment tested whether teachers could be encouraged to adopt an empathic rather than punitive mindset about discipline—to value students’ perspectives and sustain positive relationships while encouraging better behavior. The second tested whether an empathic response to misbehavior would sustain students’ respect for teachers and motivation to behave well in class. These hypotheses were confirmed. Finally, a randomized field experiment tested a brief, online intervention to encourage teachers to adopt an empathic mindset about discipline. Evaluated at five middle schools in three districts, this intervention halved year-long student suspension rates and bolstered respect the most at-risk students, previously suspended students, perceived from teachers. Teachers’ mindsets about discipline directly affect the quality of teacher– student relationships and student suspensions and, moreover, can be changed through scalable intervention.
Over the past 20 years, a large body of laboratory and field research has shown that, when people perform in settings in which their group is negatively stereotyped, they may experience a phenomenon called stereotype threat that can undermine motivation and trust and cause underperformance. This review describes that research and places it into an organizational context. First, the researchers describe the processes by which stereotype threat can impair outcomes among people in the workplace. Next, they delineate the situational cues in organizational settings that can exacerbate stereotype threat, and explain how and why these cues affect stereotyped individuals. Finally, they discuss relatively simple empirically based strategies that organizations can implement to reduce stereotype threat and create conditions in which employees and applicants from all groups can succeed.
Can social-psychological theory provide insight into the extreme racial disparities in school disciplinary action in the United States? Disciplinary problems carry enormous consequences for the quality of students’ experience in school, opportunities to learn, and ultimate life outcomes. This burden falls disproportionately on students of color. Integrating research on stereotyping and on stigma, we theorize that bias and apprehension about bias can build on one another in school settings in a vicious cycle that undermines teacher-student relationships over time and exacerbates inequality. This approach is more comprehensive than accounts that consider the predicaments of either teachers or students alone but not the two in tandem; it complements nonpsychological approaches; and it gives rise to novel implications for policy and intervention. It also extends prior research on bias and stigmatization to provide a model for understanding the social-psychological bases of inequality more generally.
There are many promising psychological interventions on the horizon, but there is no clear methodology for preparing them to be scaled up. Drawing on design thinking, the present research formalizes a methodology for redesigning and tailoring initial interventions. The researchers test the methodology using the case of fixed versus growth mindsets during the transition to high school. The current research provides a model for how to improve and scale interventions that begin to address pressing educational problems. It also provides insight into how to teach a growth mindset more effectively.
Gender stereotypes in science impede supportive environments for women. Research suggests that women’s perceptions of these environments are influenced by stereotype threat (ST): anxiety faced in situations where one may be evaluated using negative stereotypes. This study developed and tested ST metrics for first time use with junior faculty in academic medicine.
We argue that social psychology has unique potential for advancing understanding of resilience. An exciting development that illustrates this is the emergence of social-psychological interventions – brief, stealthy, and psychologically precise interventions – that can yield broad and lasting benefits by targeting key resilience mechanisms. Such interventions provide a causal test of resilience mechanisms and bring about positive change in people's lives.
Over the past 20 years, a large body of laboratory and field research has shown that, when people perform in settings in which their group is negatively stereotyped, they may experience a phenomenon called stereotype threat that can undermine motivation and trust and cause underperformance. This review describes that research and places it into an organizational context. First, we describe the processes by which stereotype threat can impair outcomes among people in the workplace. Next, we delineate the situational cues in organizational settings that can exacerbate stereotype threat, and explain how and why these cues affect stereotyped individuals. Finally, we discuss relatively simple empirically based strategies that organizations can implement to reduce stereotype threat and create conditions in which employees and applicants from all groups can succeed.
Citizens complete a survey the day before a major election; a change in the survey items’ grammatical structure increases turnout by 11 percentage points. People answer a single question; their romantic relationships improve over several weeks. At-risk students complete a 1-hour reading-and-writing exercise; their grades rise and their health improves for the next 3 years. Each statement may sound outlandish—more science fiction than science. Yet each represents the results of a recent study in psychological science (respectively, Bryan, Walton, Rogers, & Dweck, 2011; Marigold, Holmes, & Ross, 2007, 2010; Walton & Cohen, 2011). These studies have shown, more than one might have thought, that specific psychological processes contribute to major social problems. These processes act as levers in complex systems that give rise to social problems. Precise interventions that alter them—what I call “wise interventions”—can produce significant benefits and do so over time. What are wise interventions? How do they work? And how can they help solve social problems?
The authors review the theoretical basis of several prominent social-psychological interventions and emphasizes that they have lasting effects because they target students' subjective experiences in school, because they use persuasive yet stealthy methods for conveying psychological ideas, and because they tap into recursive processes present in educational environments. Understanding these interventions as powerful but context-dependent tools is essential when taking them to scale.
Belonging and self-affirmation interventions mitigated the effects of a "chilly climate" women may experience in engineering, especially in male dominated fields. The belonging intervention helped women better integrate into the department and build more relationships with male peers, while the affirmation training intervention led them to develop external resources that helped them manage the stress that can arise from social marginalization. Both interventions raised women's GPA, eliminating gender differences.
This paper was prepared for a White House meeting on academic mindsets in May 2013. The authors review recent research findings and put forth an R&D agenda focused on principles (understanding how to maximize the effects of mindset interventions); practices (expanding the toolkit of day-to-day practices that instill adaptive mindsets; and assessments (developing measures that allow for more rapid learning from practice).
The authors suggest that standard measures of academic performance are biased against non-Asian ethnic minorities and women in quantitative fields. This bias results from the context in which they are assessed—from psychological threats in common academic environments, which depress the performances of people targeted by negative intellectual stereotypes. Two meta-analyses, combining data from 18,976 students, tested this latent-ability hypothesis. Both meta-analyses found that, under conditions that reduce psychological threat, stereotyped students performed better than nonstereotyped students at the same level of past performance. The authors discuss implications for the interpretation of and remedies for achievement gaps.
An intervention that framed social adversity as common and transient and used subtle attitude-change strategies raised black students' GPA and halved the achievement gap between black and white students. The increase in their performance was the result of the intervention preventing students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. It also improved self-reported health and well-being.
Worry over one’s social belonging can contribute to racial disparities in college achievement. Historically excluded groups may feel alienated and stigmatized on college campuses, contributing to the belief that they don’t belong. Subtle events that confirm a lack of social connectedness can have large impacts on belonging. On days of high stress, black students’ (but not white students’) sense of fit in college declined. However, after an exercise that relayed the message that normalized their feelings and suggested they would dissipate with time, black students were more engaged in school, and their sense of belonging hinged less on the quality of their day. Their GPAs also improved.
The authors describe several social psychological factors that affect student motivation and learning. They describe the properties of instructional practices and schools that appear to foster student mindsets, tenacity, and performance.
The first study revealed that students with more of a pro-social, self-transcendent purpose for learning persisted longer on a boring task and were less likely to drop out of college. A second study showed that a brief intervention promoting a self-transcendent purpose for learning improved high school GPA. Two other studies showed that promoting a self-transcendent purpose increased deeper learning behavior on tedious test review materials and sustained self-regulation over the course of an increasingly boring task. More self-oriented motives for learning—such as the desire to have an interesting or enjoyable career—did not, on their own, consistently produce these benefits.
The authors delivered brief growth mindset and sense of purpose interventions through online modules to 1,594 high school students. Among students at risk of dropping out of high school, both of the interventions raised students' semester GPAs in core academic courses and increased the rate at which students passed their courses.
An important consequence of negative stereotypes about certain groups' intellectual ability is to convey to members of these groups that they are not seen as individuals, that they may not be fully valued or respected—that they may not belong—in academic settings. In this chapter, the authors review research demonstrating that people who contend with numeric underrepresentation and with negative stereotypes in mainstream academic and professional arenas are vigilant for cues that could communicate they do not belong or are not fully included in these settings. When encountered, such cues can undermine people’s sense of belonging, motivation, and achievement. The authors review effective remedies.
The authors argue for a conceptualization of prejudice as something that people and contexts do, not just the type of person someone is. This interpretation shifts our view of prejudice from a static and fixed property of individuals to one that is active, dynamic and sourced from both people (e.g., their attitudes and beliefs) and the contexts that they inhabit. To fully understand the effect that people’s attitudes have on others, one must consider the contexts within which the actor and the target are embedded.