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

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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.

Despite facing daunting odds of academic success compared with their more socioeconomically advantaged peers, many students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds maintain high levels of academic motivation and persist in the face of difficulty. The researchers propose that for these students, academic persistence may hinge on their perceptions of socioeconomic mobility, or their general beliefs regarding whether or not socioeconomic mobility—a powerful academic motivator—can occur in their society. Specifically, low-SES students' desire to persist on a primary path to mobility (i.e., school) should remain strong if they believe that socioeconomic mobility can occur in their society. By contrast, those who believe that socioeconomic mobility generally does not occur should be less motivated to persist academically. One correlational and two experimental studies provide support for this hypothesis among low (but not high) SES high school and university students. Implications for future intervention efforts are discussed.

Despite a growing number of brief, psychosocial interventions that improve academic achievement, little research investigates how to leverage parents during such efforts. The research team designed and tested a randomized controlled intervention targeting parents to influence important discussions about the future and responses to academic difficulty experienced by their adolescent during eighth grade in the United States. Experienced parents were recruited to convey the main messages of the intervention in a parent panel format. As expected, current parents who were randomly assigned to observe the parent panel subsequently planned to talk with their adolescents sooner about future opportunities and to respond more positively to experiences of academic difficulty than parents who were randomly assigned to a control group. The intervention also led to a significant increase in student grades, which was mediated by parents’ responses to academic difficulty.

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.

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.

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