Growth mindset intervention increases interest in math and science

A growth mindset intervention can increase interest in math and science. A new study by O'Keefe et al. (2023) examines how students' perceptions of their interests can influence how they perform in certain subjects. The research is specifically about exact subjects and mathematics. It's common for students to label themselves as "not a math or science person." This can limit their academic performance and development. But what if we can change this mindset?

Interests are not fixed but can be developed

The research was conducted by Paul O'Keefe, Elizabeth Horberg, Carol Dweck, and Gregory Walton. It is based on the hypothesis that interests are not fixed, but can be developed. This concept is known as the 'growth mindset theory of interest'. Their idea is that presenting interests as developable, rather than fixed, can increase interest and even grades in required math and science courses among students who do not self-identify as a "math or science person."

1st Experiment: pilot study

This theory was tested in a pilot study at a small liberal arts school (N=175). Students took a 30-minute online module on the growth theory of interest (as opposed to a control group). This study found that the growth mindset intervention was successful and led to increased interest in math and science.

2nd Experiment: larger group

Subsequently, a larger, randomized field experiment was conducted with first-year students (N=580) at a major university. These students completed the same intervention before school started. They then reported their interest in their two required first-year math/science courses. Here it was found that the intervention led to increased interest and higher final grades in these courses.

General results

Overall, the results of both experiments showed a positive impact of the growth mindset intervention. Students who completed the growth theory of interest module not only developed a greater interest in math and science, but also achieved higher final grades in these courses, compared to the control group.

Conclusion and Implications

It is clear from this research that presenting interests as developable rather than fixed can have a significant impact on students' interest and achievement in math and science. This is especially relevant for colleges and universities, where students are often told to 'find their passion'.

When educational institutions emphasize that interests can grow, they can help students become skilled and versatile learners. This allows them to be successful in subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and math. This research makes us think about how we talk about interests and passions, and how we can help students reach their full potential.