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Researchers to Try to Persuade Students That Intelligence Is Malleable

RESEARCH TO WATCH: Studies by Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck and others have been suggesting for some time now that students' motivation to succeed in school may be linked to how they think about intelligence. Students who believe you have to be born smart in order to do well in school are less motivated to study hard than those who think intelligence can be developed and that it comes from hard work.

The challenge for teachers is: How do you change the mindset of the students who fall in the first group? With a brand-new $1.4 million grant from the federal Institute of Education Sciences, Josh Aronson, a researcher at New York University, hopes to find out.

Aronson and his co-investigators—Jennifer Mangels of Baruch College and Matthew McGlone of the University of Texas at Austin—are developing and testing programs aimed at using scientific evidence on brain development to persuade students that intelligence is malleable.

The study focuses on 8th and 9th graders, who are arguably among the most motivationally challenged of all age groups when it comes to schoolwork. What Aronson and his colleagues hope to do is expose the students to two interventions—one that uses a narrative story presented through interactive media and another that uses computer simulation to involve students in a cognitive-science experiment. The researchers will measure the impact of both interventions on students' theories about intelligence and their levels of motivation. Then they plan to make adjustments to maximize any positive effects they find.

Eventually, the research team hopes to determine what effect, if any, the interventions will have on improving the bottom line, which is students' actual classroom performance. The plan is to compare any classroom effects they get to those for students who learn about the brain's neuroplasticity through less engaging instructional methods. Look for these results in a couple of years. In the meantime, NYU posted a press release on the grant award on its Web site today.

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