Are growth mindsets important to academic achievement?

Mindset theory suggests that pupils with higher growth mindsets benefit from higher academic achievement, and therefore, interventions designed to increase pupils’ growth mindsets are thought to increase academic achievement. To evaluate this, Victoria Sisk and colleagues conducted two meta-analyses to assess to what extent and under which circumstances growth mindsets are important to academic achievement.

The first meta-analysis examined whether pupils’ mindsets were related to academic achievement. In the second, they looked at the effectiveness of growth mindset interventions on pupils’ academic achievement. For both analyses, academic achievement was measured using standardised test scores from more than 400,000 pupils.

The study, published in Psychological Science, found little to no impact for both meta-analyses, and effect sizes were inconsistent across studies. Overall, the first meta-analysis showed only a very weak relationship between mindsets and academic achievements. Similarly, only a very small overall effect for mindset interventions on academic achievement was demonstrated in the second meta-analysis.

Source: To what extent and under which circumstances are growth mind-sets important to academic achievement? Two meta-analyses (March 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617739704

Conversation more important than word exposure for literacy and language development

While it is common knowledge that talking to children helps them develop language and pre-literacy skills, new research from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania shows that children gain greater language development and pre-literacy benefits the more that caregivers engage them in conversational turn-taking-like exchanges. In other words, talking with children is more beneficial than talking to children.

In the first study to link children’s language exposure to neural functioning, functional MRIs showed that children who experienced more frequent conversational turn-taking with caregivers while listening to stories demonstrated greater activity within the part of the brain in charge of language processing than children who didn’t interact in as many conversational exchanges. These same children also scored higher than their counterparts on standardised language assessments measuring vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. This was true regardless of children’s socioeconomic status or parental education.

Audio recordings of 36 four- to six-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds measured the number of words children said, the number of words they heard and the number of conversational exchanges in which they engaged for two days. All children were native English speakers who did not significantly differ by behaviour, language exposure, or neural measures on standardised tests. When these measures were compared to the brain scans, researchers found a positive correlation between conversational turns and brain physiology.

Source: Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function (February 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742725

How do parents influence children’s mindset?

Children with a fixed mindset believe that they have a fixed amount of intelligence that they cannot change. As a result, when work becomes difficult they may question their ability, stop trying, and achieve less. In contrast, children with a growth mindset see their intelligence as malleable and something that can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and teaching. As a result, when work becomes difficult they are more likely to increase their efforts and achieve more.

To date, no clear link has been found between parents’ mindsets and their children’s. A series of experiments, published in Psychological Science, has found that parental response to failure is influential. Parents who believed that failure is a debilitating experience that inhibits learning and productivity had children who tended to have a fixed mindset. This occurred because these parents reacted to their children’s failures by focusing more on their children’s ability or performance than on their learning.

It may not be sufficient, therefore, to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will pass this on to their children. Instead, an intervention could target teaching parents that failure can be beneficial, and help them to react appropriately to their children’s setbacks in order to support their children’s future motivation and learning.

Source: What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets? Not Their Parents’ Views of Intelligence but Their Parents’ Views of Failure (2016), Psychological Science.

Mind-set interventions on a larger scale

A paper from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Texas describes how the institutions delivered brief online mind-set interventions to 1,594 pupils in 13 schools.

The authors reported that previous research on mind-set demonstrated the worth of small-scale interventions, and they set out to gather evidence on whether such interventions are practical on a larger scale.

Mind-set interventions seek to replace unhelpful fixed-mind-set attitudes where intelligence is viewed as unchangeable and praise focuses on passive aspects of achievement (“you are lucky to be so smart/talented”) with growth-mind-set attitudes where intelligence can grow and effort attracts praise (“you worked hard to come up with a good answer”).

Pupils allocated to intervention groups were given two 45-minute sessions two weeks apart (intervention groups had either growth-mind-set or sense-of-purpose sessions or both). Pupils allocated to the control group were given similar sessions but these “lacked the key psychological message that intelligence is malleable.”

One third of the study participants were considered to be at risk of dropping out of high school. Pupils in this subgroup improved their core subject grade point average after the mind-set intervention. Achievement of satisfactory grades (A to C) increased by 6% among the at-risk subgroup; there was no difference in satisfactory grades in the control group.

The authors concluded that their study demonstrated “the potential for academic-mind-set interventions to be effective on a wide scale.”

Source: Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement (2015), Psychological Science

Does inflated praise deflate some children?

A new article published in Psychological Science suggests that using inflated praise with children with low self-esteem may be counter-productive. The authors conducted three studies. Two of these tested whether adults are more likely to give inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than to children with high self-esteem, both inside the laboratory (Study 1. N = 712 adults) and outside the laboratory (Study 2. N = 114 parents). A third experiment looked at whether inflated praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem (N = 240 children aged 8-12).

The findings showed that adults are especially inclined to give inflated praise, such as “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!”, to children with low self-esteem. However, they also found that such praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem and has the opposite effect on children with high self-esteem. They conclude that inflated praise, although well intended, may cause children with low self-esteem to avoid crucial learning experiences.

Source: “That’s Not Just Beautiful–That’s Incredibly Beautiful!”: The Adverse Impact of Inflated Praise on Children With Low Self-Esteem (2014),Psychological Science, online first January 2014.

Children should get active, and stay that way, to improve later cognitive function

Taking part in leisure time physical activity (LTPA) is positively associated with cognitive functioning in the mid-adult years, with the greatest benefits for those people who participate in lifelong (both childhood and adult), intensive LTPA.

In an article published in Psychological Medicine, researchers from King’s College London estimated the association between different LTPA parameters from 11 to 50 years and cognitive functioning in late mid-adulthood. They used data from the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS), a cohort study of children born in 1958, with LTPA data collected from questionnaires.

Source: Leisure-time Physical Activity Over the Life Course and Cognitive Functioning in Late Mid-adult Years: A Cohort-based Investigation (2013),Psychological Medicine, (online, March 2013).