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Skill Accumulation with Malleable Ability : A Randomized Control Trial

CIREQ-McGill Seminar 2020-2021
joint with the Department of Economics, McGill University

Organizer : Fernando Saltiel (McGill University)

* Please contact the organizer if you would like access.


RÉSUMÉ : Existing research shows that students who believe that one’s intelligence and cognitive abilities are malleable and can be improved through effort are more likely to be academically successful. Interventions attempting to change these beliefs, particularly in groups with low academic performance, have therefore been suggested as a way to improve or close ethnic or social (SES) gaps in students’ outcomes. However, the mechanisms through which the claimed benefits accrue are still poorly understood. In this paper we evaluate the effects of a randomized intervention focusing on the role ability and the importance of effort for academic success on a sample of first year university students in the UK. We consider the effects of this intervention on individual beliefs about ability and effort, measured using the “growth mindset” scale as well subjective expectations about the productivity of study and attendance in terms of future grades. We also look at a range of observed behaviours, including actual attendance to lectures and classes, self-reported study hours, and various measures of study habits. We document a positive treatment effect on students’ beliefs about the malleability of ability, using all different measurements, their expected final grades, and actual GPAs in end of year tests. We find evidence that the intervention affected most significantly students’ study habits. Our heterogeneity analysis reveals no difference in the effects of the intervention by SES or initial attainment, but some interesting gender patterns emerge. 

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