encouraging a growth mindsetJascha Sohl-Dickstein, Dave Paunesku, Benjamin Haley, and Joseph Williams (see Paunesku, 2013 and this summary) conducted a study in collaboration with Kahn Academy to investigate the effects of brief messages of encouragement on learning. In an experiment with 265,082 students learning math on the Khan Academy website, brief messages encouraging a growth mindset were presented above math problems such as: “Remember, the more you practice the smarter you become!” and “If you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to get smarter!” The study also had three control conditions. In one control condition standard encouragement messages were presented such as standard encouragement, e.g., “Some of these problems are hard. Just do your best”. In another control condition science statements, e.g., “Did you know: An elephant brains weighs 7/2 as much as a human brain.” Finally, there was a no-header control condition.

The growth mindset encouragement group earned proficiencies at a rate that was 2.9% higher than in the no-header condition. Neither of the other two types of messages (standard encouragement and science statements) significantly affected the learning of the students (see table below).

encouraging a growth mindset

Dave Paunesku on these results: “That this brief intervention was effective even with a massive, heterogenous sample suggests that its effect is extremely robust, and it carries practical implications. Although the absolute size of the gain (3%) may appear small, it is practically significant considering that it could be easily implemented across a range of learning contexts” (source).


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