Research Library

Search over three decades of research on mindsets, including Mindset Scholars Network briefs and working papers, and other publications from Network studies and initiatives.


Developmental Stage

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During high school, developing competence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is critically important as preparation to pursue STEM careers, yet students in the United States lag behind other countries, ranking 35th in mathematics and 27th in science achievement internationally. Given the importance of STEM careers as drivers of modern economies, this deficiency in preparation for STEM careers threatens the United States’ continued economic progress.

In the present study, the research team evaluated the long-term effects of a theory-based intervention designed to help parents convey the importance of mathematics and science courses to their high-school–aged children. A prior report on this intervention showed that it promoted STEM course-taking in high school; in the current follow-up study, the researchers found that the intervention improved mathematics and science standardized test scores on a college preparatory examination (ACT) for adolescents by 12 percentile points. Greater high-school STEM preparation (STEM course-taking and ACT scores) was associated with increased STEM career pursuit (i.e., STEM career interest, the number of college STEM courses, and students’ attitudes toward STEM) 5 years after the intervention. These results suggest that the intervention can affect STEM career pursuit indirectly by increasing high-school STEM preparation. This finding underscores the importance of targeting high-school STEM preparation to increase STEM career pursuit.

The pipeline toward careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) begins to leak in high school, when some students choose not to take advanced mathematics and science courses. The research team conducted a field experiment testing whether a theory-based intervention that was designed to help parents convey the importance of mathematics and science courses to their high school–aged children would lead them to take more mathematics and science courses in high school. The three-part intervention consisted of two brochures mailed to parents and a Web site, all highlighting the usefulness of STEM courses. This relatively simple intervention led students whose parents were in the experimental group to take, on average, nearly one semester more of science and mathematics in the last 2 years of high school, compared with the control group. Parents are an untapped resource for increasing STEM motivation in adolescents, and the results demonstrate that motivational theory can be applied to this important pipeline problem.

The current longitudinal study draws on identity based and expectancy-value theories of motivation to explain the SES and mathematics and science course-taking relationship. This was done by gathering reports from students and their parents about their expectations, values, and future identities for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics beginning in middle school through age 20. Results showed that parental education predicted mathematics and science course taking in high school and college, and this relationship was partially mediated by students’ and parents’ future identity and motivational beliefs concerning mathematics and science. These findings suggest that psychological interventions may be useful for reducing social class gaps in STEM course taking, which has critical implications for the types of opportunities and careers available to students.

In the context of concerns about American youths' failure to take advanced math and science (MS) courses in high school, we examined mothers' communication with their adolescent about taking MS courses. At ninth grade, U.S. mothers were interviewed about their responses to hypothetical questions from their adolescent about the usefulness of algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Responses were coded for elaboration and making personal connections to the adolescent. The number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses taken in 12th grade was obtained from school records. Mothers' use of personal connections predicted adolescents' MS interest and utility value, as well as actual MS course-taking. Parents can play an important role in motivating their adolescent to take MS courses.

Harackiewicz, Rozek, Hulleman, and Hyde (2012) documented an increase in adolescents’ STEM course-taking for students whose parents were assigned to a utility-value intervention in comparison to a control group. In this study, the researchers examined whether that intervention was equally effective for boys and girls and examined factors that moderate and mediate the effect of the intervention on adolescent outcomes. The intervention was most effective in increasing STEM course-taking for high-achieving daughters and low-achieving sons, whereas the intervention did not help low-achieving daughters (prior achievement measured in terms of grade point average in 9th-grade STEM courses). The results are consistent with a model in which parents’ utility value plays a causal role in affecting adolescents’ achievement behavior in the STEM domain. The findings also indicate that utility-value interventions with parents can be effective for low-achieving boys and for high-achieving girls but suggest modifications in their use with low-achieving girls.