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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Jun 14;113(24):E3341-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1524360113. Epub 2016 May 31.

Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin,TX 78712; dyeager@utexas.edu gwalton@stanford.edu.
2
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; dyeager@utexas.edu gwalton@stanford.edu.
3
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
4
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
5
Project for Education Research That Scales, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
6
uAspire, Boston, MA 02109;
7
The Character Lab, Philadelphia, PA 19104;
8
Department of Government, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853;
9
The Character Lab, Philadelphia, PA 19104; Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104;
10
Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
11
Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
12
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;

Abstract

Previous experiments have shown that college students benefit when they understand that challenges in the transition to college are common and improvable and, thus, that early struggles need not portend a permanent lack of belonging or potential. Could such an approach-called a lay theory intervention-be effective before college matriculation? Could this strategy reduce a portion of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic achievement gaps for entire institutions? Three double-blind experiments tested this possibility. Ninety percent of first-year college students from three institutions were randomly assigned to complete single-session, online lay theory or control materials before matriculation (n > 9,500). The lay theory interventions raised first-year full-time college enrollment among students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds exiting a high-performing charter high school network or entering a public flagship university (experiments 1 and 2) and, at a selective private university, raised disadvantaged students' cumulative first-year grade point average (experiment 3). These gains correspond to 31-40% reductions of the raw (unadjusted) institutional achievement gaps between students from disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged backgrounds at those institutions. Further, follow-up surveys suggest that the interventions improved disadvantaged students' overall college experiences, promoting use of student support services and the development of friendship networks and mentor relationships. This research therefore provides a basis for further tests of the generalizability of preparatory lay theories interventions and of their potential to reduce social inequality and improve other major life transitions.

KEYWORDS:

behavioral science; field experiment; inequality; lay theories; social psychology

PMID:
27247409
PMCID:
PMC4914175
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1524360113
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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