Skills and Education

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

Swissotel Chicago, Zurich C
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: James Andreoni, University of California-San Diego

An Economists’ Guide to Mindset: Evidence From A Field Experiment in Norway

Eric Bettinger
,
Stanford University
Sten Ludvigsen
,
University of Oslo
Mari Rege
,
University of Stavanger
Ingeborg Solli
,
University of Stavanger
David Yaeger
,
University of Texas-Austin

Abstract

This paper experimentally tests whether “growth mindset” interventions can increase high school students’ achievement. An extensive literature in psychology has documented strong links between a student’s academic mindset and underperformance (Dweck, 2006, Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Students with a “fixed mindset” believe their intelligence or talents are fixed traits. By contrast, students with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Numerous studies demonstrate that growth mindset predicts increased learning and higher grades over time as compared to a fixed mindset (Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Moreover, recent studies have demonstrated that large scale, web-based interventions can directly teach growth mindsets in academic settings and cause lasting improvements in motivation and learning (Paunesku et al., 2015, Yeager et al., 2015).<br />
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In the spring of 2016, high school students in Norway participated in a field experiment investigating effects of a mindset intervention (n=380). We randomly assigned students to either a mindset condition or a control condition similar to the web-based conditions used in Yeager et al., (2015) yet carefully adapted to Norwegian language, culture and context. The mindset condition exposes students to growth mindset through online reading and writing exercises.  These exercises focus on the malleability of intellectual abilities discussing the brain’s potential to grow and change, how to cope with confusion and difficulty, and how these challenges improve the neural connections in one’s brain. In the control condition students completed analogous activities, which taught facts about memory and the brain, but did not address the malleability of intellectual ability. We investigate intervention effect on students’ challenge seeking, effort and performance on algebra questions, and end of semester grades.

Causal Effects of Mentoring on Critical Educational Transitions

Armin Falk
,
University of Bonn
Fabian Kosse
,
University of Bonn
Pia Rosina Pinger
,
University of Bonn
Hannah Schildberg-Horisch
,
University of Dusseldorf

Abstract

We show that a low-intensity mentoring program can boost education outcomes among school children from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. Elementary school children who were assigned a mentor for the duration of one year are 11 percentage points (20 percent) more likely to be tracked into the highest German track in grade 5. The effect is particularly pronounced among children who are younger at the time of the treatment and who grow up in poverty. Moreover, the treatment is more e ffective if and at least one of the parents has obtained an upper secondary school degree and if a student is at the margin of attending the highest school track. Our results suggest that a low intensity mentoring program during a critical decision period can have marked implications for child education outcomes. It closes around 1/3 of the gap in education outcomes between high and low SES children.

Using Goals to Motivate College Students: Theory and Evidence from Field Experiments

David Gill
,
Purdue University
Damon Clark
,
University of California-Irvine
Victoria Prowse
,
Purdue University
Mark Rush
,
University of Florida

Abstract

Will college students who set goals for themselves work harder and perform better? In theory, setting goals can help time-inconsistent students to mitigate their self-control problem. In practice, there is little credible evidence on the causal effects of goal setting for college students. We report the results of two field experiments that involved almost four thousand college students in total. One experiment asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). We find that performance-based goals had no discernible impact on course performance. In contrast, task-based goals had large and robust effects on task completion, and moderate and marginally significant effects on course performance. This last result is consistent with task completion improving course performance. We also find that task-based goals were more effective for male students. We develop new theory to understand the different effects of task-based and performance-based goals. The theory suggests that overconfidence and uncertainty about performance can help explain why task-based goals are more effective. Since goal setting is low-cost, scaleable and logistically simple, we conclude that our findings have important implications for educational practice and future research.

Belief in Hard Work and Prosocial Behavior: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

Sule Alan
,
University of Essex
Seda Ertac
,
Koc University

Abstract

We provide evidence that optimistic beliefs regarding the malleability of ability, while leading to individual success, diminish the individual's sympathy toward the unsuccessful. We generate random variation in beliefs via an educational intervention, which imparts to elementary school children the idea that ability, rather than being innately fixed, can be developed through effort. To evaluate the impact of the intervention we create an experimental setting where both control and treatment students are given the opportunity to accumulate ability in a real effort task and earn rewards. Against this background, we implement an altruism experiment where we manipulate the donation context in terms of the potential reasons for the anonymous recipient's poorness. We find that while treated students are no less likely than control to give to recipients who are poor because of bad luck, they are significantly less likely to give to those who failed at the task despite having had a chance to practice. The results point to the importance of beliefs about the role of hard work in shaping redistributive preferences.
Discussant(s)
Damon Clark
,
University of California-Irvine
Kirabo Jackson
,
Northwestern University
Philip Oreopoulos
,
University of Toronto
Gregory Veramendi
,
Arizona State University
JEL Classifications
  • I0 - General
  • I2 - Education and Research Institutions