When do growth mindset interventions work well and when not so well?
When do students benefit from a growth mindset and when do they not? When do growth mindset interventions work well and when don't they? A new study by Cameron Hecht and colleagues uses some cutting-edge insights and techniques and comes up with relevant answers.
Heterogeneous effects of psychological interventions
Psychological interventions can be powerful. They can help solve individual and even societal problems. But the effects of psychological (or behavioral science) interventions are normally heterogeneous across contexts. This means that their effectiveness depends on the target groups they target and also on the characteristics of the situations in which they are applied.
Exploring the heterogeneity of growth mindset interventions
A new study by Cameron Hecht et al. (2022) uses these insights to learn more about the effectiveness of growth mindset interventions. Growth mindset interventions are also meaningful but heterogeneous: sometimes they work better than others.
Hecht et al. conducted a study using some advanced methods and techniques. For example, they used pre-registration and conservative Bayesian analyses, replication in a nationally representative sample, and studies that excluded potential effects of confounding variables.
The researchers found a positive association between students' growth mindset beliefs and their learning-oriented choices. However, this association was only strong when the teacher supported a growth mindset through his messages and abilities. The association was much weaker when teachers adopted a fixed mindset.
The study thus uncovers a clear cause of the heterogeneity of growth mindsets and growth mindset interventions. To benefit from growth mindsets and growth mindset interventions, it is necessary that the teacher's messages and structural capabilities are aligned with a growth mindset. This is a prerequisite for students to take full advantage of their growth mindset (Study 3).
The researchers also showed that a warm attitude on the part of a teacher was not enough to counteract the growth-suppressing effects of fixed mindset messages (study 4).
These findings are useful for practice. It works well if teachers have a growth mindset and propagate it. What is also needed is that they support the growth mindset in the structure and environment in which students work, for example by providing optimal challenges.
What is not sufficient is the expression of friendliness and warmth by the teacher, or the giving of ambiguous messages about the developability of capacities.
It pays to invest in such growth mindset supporting practices. Growth mindset supportive environments are associated with less psychological vulnerability, more confidence and better student performance.