The Growth Mindset Project

Brazilian kid

Re­search world­wide shows that stu­dents who do well in school tend to be­lieve that good grades are the out­come of ef­fort, while those who fall be­hind tend to be­lieve that good grades are not the out­come of ef­fort, but rather, of tal­ent. While it is cer­tain­ly true, on av­er­age, that stu­dents from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds have to put in a lot more ef­fort to achieve the same as those from bet­ter-off fam­i­lies, re­search shows that every stu­dent can im­prove rel­a­tive to them­selves by putting in more ef­fort. More­over, even with­in each in­come stra­ta, be­liefs about the sources of good grades (ef­fort vs. tal­ent) mat­ter for aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance; in oth­er words, dif­fer­ences in mind­sets cre­ate a vi­cious cy­cle: those with poor grades do not think they can im­prove, and stay be­hind.

The Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals of this Pro­ject
quality educationindustry, innovation and infrastructurereduced inequalitiespartnership for the goals

Ev­i­dence shows that the growth mind­set in­ter­ven­tion can help stu­dents un­der­stand that “the brain is like a mus­cle”, that is, ex­er­cis­ing it through study and ef­fort can make it ‘stronger’. In­deed, in coun­tries like the US, Nor­way, and Turkey, growth mind­set in­ter­ven­tions have im­proved ado­les­cents’ test scores and de­creased high-school dropout rates.

To ob­tain first-hand ev­i­dence about the chan­nels through which such in­ter­ven­tions could im­prove ed­u­ca­tion­al out­comes, this project un­der­took a large-scale field ex­per­i­ment in Brazil dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. For al­most 850,000 pub­lic school stu­dents in São Paulo State, we repli­cate the on­line in­ter­ven­tion un­der­tak­en in the US and Nor­way and also adapt it to an of­fline for­mat based on week­ly text mes­sages (SMS). The SMS ex­per­i­ment as­signs dif­fer­ent stu­dents to a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the in­ter­ven­tion to shed light on the mech­a­nisms be­hind its ef­fects on stu­dent be­hav­ior. In par­tic­u­lar, we run a horse race be­tween the orig­i­nal growth mind­set in­ter­ven­tion (‘your brain is like a mus­cle’) against al­ter­na­tive mes­sages that em­pha­size (1) high re­turns to ef­fort, (2) low ef­fort costs, (3) fu­ture ori­en­ta­tion, (4) risk-tak­ing or (5) salience of school life. We study whether these in­ter­ven­tions can mit­i­gate learn­ing loss­es and dropout risk dur­ing school clo­sures and as in-per­son class­es grad­u­al­ly re­turn.

The loop: ado­les­cent un­der-ed­u­ca­tion, due to self-ful­fill­ing be­liefs about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ef­fort and ed­u­ca­tion­al out­comes

Break­ing the loop: chang­ing ado­les­cents mind­sets through a growth mind­set in­ter­ven­tion, adapt­ed to max­i­mize the ex­tent to which be­liefs can be changed.

The Growth Mind­set Pro­ject

A growth mind­set is the be­lief that in­tel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ties are not fixed, but can be de­vel­oped. Do stu­dents who are taught a growth mind­set earn high­er grades and test scores?

  • Sta­tusOn­go­ing
  • Coun­tryBrazil
  • Pro­gram areaEd­u­ca­tion, In­dus­try In­no­va­tion In­fra­struc­ture, Re­duced In­equal­i­ties, Part­ner­ships
  • Top­icsMind­set, Be­liefs
  • Part­nersState Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion of Rio de Janeiro, MGov, Sin­croniza
  • Time­line2018 - 2022
  • Study typeRan­dom­ized Eval­u­a­tion
  • Sam­ple size53,350 Stu­dents, 10,000 Par­ents, 800 Teach­ers

Re­search Team

Prof. Dr. Eric Bettinger

University of Stanford

Prof. Dr. Mari Rege

UiS Business School, University of Stavanger

Ana Trindade Ribeiro

Stanford University

Prof. Dr. David Yeager

University of Texas