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Education, Work, and Inequality Projects

Discrimination and Achievement Disparities in Adolescence

Principal Investigator: Aprile Benner
Additional Investigator: Robert Crosnoe
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Our overarching goal is to examine the effects of race/ethnic discrimination on achievement and well-being. Our first aim is to examine the intersection of discrimination tied to multiple stigmatized identities. Latent class analysis of survey, daily diary, and interview data will document the extent to which youth are marginalized by peers, educators, or institutions due to their race/ethnicity, social class, weight, and/or sexual minority status. The second aim is to investigate variation in adolescents’ achievement and well-being linked to constellations of discrimination. Analyses of quantitative and qualitative data will unpack whether discrimination by specific perpetrators or discrimination tied to race/ethnicity and other social identities may be differentially linked to achievement, internalizing symptoms, and risky behaviors and potential mechanisms of influence. The final aim is to assess the degree to which the school context protects or exacerbates discrimination effects.

Adolescents and the Social Contexts of American Schools

Principal Investigator: Aprile Benner
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

Adolescents spend roughly half their waling hours in school, an institution that serves as a central setting of socialization and peer relations and a major playing field for competition and stratification.  For these reasons, the academic and social climates of schools (e.g., how well youth perform at school, what the prevailing norms and values are) matter.  The implications of school norms extend to both the short- and long-term outcomes of young people above and beyond formal instructional and structural aspects of schools traditionally targeted by educational policy and studied by researchers.  Developmentally-oriented scholars have made strides to characterize the social-psychological dimensions of school settings, helping to expand conceptualizations of school effects to areas of trust, marginalization, and prosociality.  This project builds on this foundation seeking to comprehensively characterize schools’ social contexts into distinct profiles of norms—or the typical and expected set of group-level beliefs and behaviors—across academic, social, and behavioral domains.  Such an approach taps into various undercurrents in the student body that represent how potentially beneficial and possibly harmful facets of school settings come together to influence young people’s development.  This project uses a sequential mixed-methods design with two decades of nationally-representative data from MTF and collection and analysis of ethnographic data in two Texas schools.

Design Technology and Engineering Education for English Learner Students: Project DTEEL

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Callahan
Additional Investigator: Richard Crawford, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects. One significant challenge facing elementary STEM education is the varied preparation of English-language learners. The project addresses this with an innovative use of engineering curriculum to build on the English-language learners' prior experiences. The project will support teachers' learning about strategies for teaching English-language learners and using engineering design tasks as learning opportunities for mathematics, science and communication skills. 

The project's cross-disciplinary approach is grounded in both inquiry-based science education research and bilingual cognition research. These complementary foci bridge research areas to highlight how engineering experiences for students can capitalize on bilingual students' experiences as problem solvers. The project will develop teachers' ability and instructional efficacy for both STEM and bilingual student instruction. The project adapts a previously developed curriculum for engineering education by adding resources and tools to support bilingual students. The research design primarily measures teacher-level phenomenon such as implementation of instructional strategies, STEM self-efficacy and ability to address the academic development of bilingual students through engineering design activities. Data collected include classroom observations, teacher surveys, focus groups, and teacher interviews. Student assessments will be piloted in the final year of the project.

Community Resources that Promote Mexican Origin Children’s STEM Education across Diverse Contexts

Principal Investigator: Tama Leventhal (Tufts University)
Co-Principal Investigator: Robert Crosnoe
Funded by: NSF / Tufts University STEM Educaiton

This project seeks to broaden the participation of an important underrepresented group in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Mexican-origin children, one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population, often come from disadvantaged circumstances that increase their need to use public education for social mobility while also posing challenges to navigating the public education system. Yet, Mexican-origin families are rich in social resources that can be leveraged to help children overcome obstacles in their educational paths. This project will identify critical points in the K-12 system and higher education when Mexican-origin children are at heightened vulnerability of leaving the STEM pipeline and community resources that promote their STEM persistence. Understanding the role that families and community resources play in Mexican-origin students' participation in STEM courses and careers is important for U.S. economic productivity and Mexican-origin children's economic success.

Collaborative Research: Early Career Transitions into STEM Employment: Processes Shaping Retention and Satisfaction

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Glass
Additional Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Contemporary debates about STEM education and the STEM labor force center around claims that there is both a shortage of trained workers for the scientific and technical needs of employers, and that this shortage could be ameliorated with larger numbers of women and minorities trained in STEM disciplines where they are currently underrepresented. Our primary research questions deal with both issues by first investigating the transition from STEM education into the labor force for women and men, and then investigating the role of employment conditions, alternative job opportunities, and workplace climate for retention. Our goal is to understand the large gender difference in occupational retention among STEM graduates in the early career, and the results of field departures for women’s and men’s occupational success and earnings.

Evaluation of Plan Sarmiento

Principal Investigator: Leigh Linden
Funded by: World Bank

The objective of this contract is to provide the Ministry of Education of the City of Buenos Aires technical assistance in the development and implementation of its impact evaluation agenda. By accompanying the city of Buenos Aires in their impact evaluation agenda, of which Plan S@rmiento is just one part, the Bank hopes to promote evidence-based decision making, transparency and accountability through information about the effects of the City’s major education programs.

Educational Attainment, Geography, and U.S. Adult Mortality Risk

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Karas Montes
Co-Principal Investigator: Mark Hayward
Funded by: Syracuse University

Educational attainment is one of the strongest social determinants of U.S. adult mortality risk. Studies to explain the education-mortality association have focused more on the individual-level “proximal” mechanisms (e.g., smoking) than identifying the contextual conditions that undergird the association. This major knowledge gap has consequences for science and public policy; it limits the discovery of explanations and interventions. The gap may reflect the dominant view in U.S. research that education is a personal resource. Accordingly, U.S. studies of the education-mortality association have emphasized agentic mechanisms: individuals with more education are thought to coalesce healthy lifestyles, seek out medical knowledge, avoid financial hardship, and so on. While agentic explanations are important, they ignore the fact that individuals are embedded in social and political contexts that influence the extent to which education matters for mortality. Despite numerous studies showing this to be the case in Europe, there has been scant research in the U.S. The goal of this study is to examine how and why the education-mortality association varies across U.S. states.

Educational and Early Life Predictors of Mild Cognitive Impairment: New Evidence About Mediators and Moderators From High School and Beyond.

Principal Investigator: John Robert Warrant (University of Minnesota)
Co-Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller, Eric Grodsky (University of Wisconsin); Jennifer Manly (Columbia University)
Funded by: National Institute on Aging (NIA) / University of Minnesota

This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of leading neurologists, neuropsychologists, sociologists, education scientists, and survey methodologists who will design protocols to re-contact all ≈25,500 surviving members the High School & Beyond (HSB) cohort—a nationally representative random sample of Americans first interviewed in high school in 1980—and use the resulting data to conduct transformative analyses of the effects of education on cognitive function and risk for impairment at midlife. The project has five aims: (Aim 1) To estimate the effects of (a) adolescent cognitive and non-cognitive skills, (b) secondary school course taking and college field of study, and (c) other school structures and social environments on cognitive functioning and impairment at midlife; (Aim 2) To assess the degree to which racial/ethnic differences in those aspects of education explain racial/ethnic disparities in cognitive functioning and impairment; (Aim 3) To assess the degree to which the effects of education are mediated by educational attainment, economic strain, and the cognitive complexity of paid jobs at midlife; and (Aim 4) To assess the degree to which race/ethnicity and genetic risk factors moderate the effects of education on cognitive functioning and impairment. To gather the data required to pursue these Aims, the investigators will conduct an internet/phone survey and gather genetic material via a mail-back saliva kit. (Aim5) The resulting database and associated documentation and metadata will be made freely available to the research community to facilitate scholarship on the development of MCI, AD/ADRD, and cognitive decline.

Collaborative Research: STEM Education and Workforce Participation over the Life Cycle: The Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Disability Status

Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller
Additional Investigator: Sandra E. Black, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This collaborative study with Rob Warren of the University of Minnesota and Eric Grodsky of the University of Wisconsin is investigating how the STEM skills and training that people gain in secondary and postsecondary school contribute to their ability to continue to learn and adapt to changing workplace expectations even after they leave school, thereby contributing to their workforce success in midlife.  This project extends the work begun with our other projects, STEM Education Effects on a Diverse Workforce's Development over the Life Cycle (National Science Foundation) and High School and Beyond: Human Capital over the Life Cycle as a Foundation for Working Longer (Alfred P. Sloan), by collecting a new round of interviews from the High School and Beyond (HS&B) senior cohort. Combined, the sophomore and senior cohorts will provide adequate statistical power for population estimates about the long-run processes through which STEM skills learned in school translate into later life adaptation at the intersection of gender, race and ethnicity, and disability status for persons who are underrepresented in STEM.

The project has the following two aims: 1) Re-interview members of the HS&B senior cohort and produce a database of the 2014 follow-up of that can be used by the broader research community to generate new knowledge on workforce development and broadening participation in STEM, including for students and workers at the intersection of underrepresented groups, and 2)Investigate the STEM training that students acquire and the STEM competencies they develop in schools from specific coursework, test scores, and grades to degree attainment and field of degree and analyze how these contribute to workforce success and flexibility in midlife work for persons with diverse, intersecting attributes, including those who are underrepresented in STEM. The intersecting attributes of particular interest are: (A) Women and men of color (African American and Hispanic) and (B) Women and men who have disabilities. For more information, please see

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants numbers, DRL 1420691, DRL 1420330, and DRL 1420572. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Peer Influences on Adolescents' Self-Concept, Achievement, and Future Aspirations in Science and Mathematics: Does Student Gender and Race Matter?

Principal Investigator: Nilanjana Dasgupta, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Additional Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation, through University of Massachusetts Amherst

In the past thirty years a national debate has been brewing about the scarcity of women and racial/ethnic minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and its grave implications for the American workforce in the 21st century. From middle school through college, girls and women have performed less well on standardized tests in science and mathematics than their male peers and express less confidence and aspirations in these fields. Similar findings emerge for Black and Latino students in terms of STEM self-concept and aspirations. Recently, the gender gap in science and math performance has been closing but the gap in STEM self-concept and aspirations remains large. What drives these gender and race disparities in STEM? Many girls and students of color lose interest in STEM before college partly because the stereotype of the successful student in STEM is male, White or Asian, and nerdy. Girls are particularly affected by STEM stereotypes because of their incompatibility with gender role expectations. The proposed research in this grant focuses on solutions to the leaky pipeline by investigating peer influences and classroom dynamics that protect adolescent girls from STEM stereotypes using the Stereotype Inoculation Model. This present work concentrates on contact with other girl peers in science and math classrooms as "social vaccines" who inoculate adolescent girls' mind against negative stereotypes. Four objectives guide this work: (1) To examine whether learning STEM with all-girl peers vs. mixed-sex peers in middle school enhances girls' engagement in STEM. (2) To assess whether the presence of all-girl peers has similar effects on Black and Hispanic girls (who face gender and racial stereotypes in STEM) compared to White girls (who face gender but not racial stereotypes). (3) To identify features of classroom peer dynamics that predict girls' STEM outcomes and test whether they occur differentially in all-female vs. mixed-sex classes. (4) To test if peer dynamics identified as beneficial produce the same positive outcomes for girls when put in action in mixed-sex classes.

Stories and Numbers: Creating Safe Schools for LGBT Youth in Texas

Principal Investigator: Stephen Russell
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

Is there evidence that school policies and practices that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) improve school experiences and school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and all students? What are the needs specific to transgender students, and what inclusive policies are promising to support those needs? Given public attention to “transgender bathroom panics”, how can we be sure that transgender students are supported while the needs of LGB students are not overlooked, and that advances to support sexual orientation inclusion in schools are not thwarted? (How) Can students and parents be better prepared to advocate for SOGI-inclusive school policies and practices, and to respond to efforts to thwart them? These questions are urgent for organizations supporting LGBT students and their families in Texas. We propose a systematic review of existing research on SOGI-focused policies and practices, coupled with a strategic engagement/action plan and tools, to build capacity of students and parents to combine research evidence and data with their personal stories to make the case for positive change in schools.

Getting Through the Gateway: Can Corequisite Algebra Improve STEM Progress and Degree Attainment at Community and Technical Colleges?

Principal Investigator: Lauren Schudde
Funded by: NSF

Community and technical colleges educate the majorities of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students in the American higher education system. These institutions are tasked with helping students achieve college-readiness while efficiently moving them toward degree attainment and rewarding careers. Moving more students to and through college algebra could yield dramatic increases in the volume and diversity of the labor supply for high-demand STEM fields. The proposed work will offer evidence about how corequisite algebra impacts key outcomes in STEM pathways (Goal 1), which corequisite course designs are most and least effective (Goal 2), and whether those effects vary across subgroups (Goal 3). The results will offer practical findings that colleges across the country can use as they develop corequisite math coursework and seek to improve their output of students in STEM fields.

Examining College Students' Attitudes About Guns to Develop Lessons for Intervention

Principal Investigator: Harel Shapira
Co-Investigator: Ken-Hou Lin
Funded by: Joyce Foundation

The goal of this project is to analyze the ways in which young adults (18-24) are socialized into and out of gun ownership by looking at how their experiences in college shape their attitudes and beliefs about guns. We know from existing research that educational attainment greatly reduces the likelihood that someone will own a gun, with those having college degrees being less likely to own guns than those without college degrees. However, we do not know why this is the case. In this project, we will use a combination of surveys, interviews, and focus groups, to uncover the processes and mechanisms by which young adults transition into and out of gun ownership. Through such a sociological perspective, grounded in making sense of how experiences and interactions shape attitudes and beliefs about guns, we will develop insights for the Joyce Foundation and help build intervention strategies to raise awareness of existing research on the risk of guns, change the growing perception of guns as making people safer, and help consumers make more informed
decisions about purchasing and using guns.

Multi-State Study of Monetary Sanctions

Principal Investigator: Becky Pettit
Additional Investigator: Alexes Harris, parent project PI, University of Washington
Funded by: Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Recent media attention on the justice practices of imposing fiscal penalties highlights the need for a multi-state study of the system of monetary sanctions.   The aim of this 5-year project is to better understand how the system of monetary sanctions operates across the United States and to provide empirical evidence of the ways in which fiscal penalties sentenced in municipal, felony and Federal systems of justice affect people unable to make payments. The project goal is to encourage a national dialogue around the sentencing of monetary sanctions and the generation of a data set that will allow for within state and national study of the system of monetary sanctions. This study will provide empirical evidence to answer questions about the widespread nature of this sentencing practice and the experiences and consequences for debtors across the nation.   The triangulation of data (observations, interview, survey, and automated court records) will allow the research team to describe this national phenomenon by detailing the amounts of outstanding debt and identify the numbers and characteristics of debtors.  This study will also provide a broader understanding of the different ways states and local actors choose to implement the law and decide to monitor and sanction debtors.  And, the study will provide evidence from across the United States of how this sentencing practice affects those who receive such sentences.  

The Role of Academic Achievement and Social Inclusion in Broadening STEM Participation: Intended and Actual Attainment at the Intersection of Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Principal Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb
Additional Investigator: Chandra Muller, Co-Principal Investigator
Funded by: National Science Foundation

Despite decades of prior research investigating disparities in STEM participation, much remains unknown about how to overcome the obstacles to equality. This study will make an important new contribution to the literature by examining the STEM trajectories of different gender and racial/ethnic subgroups with an explicit focus on the experiences of minority females as well as those of minority males to gain a more comprehensive and comparative picture of contemporary patterns of inequality. Specifically, it examines differences between subgroups in intended as well as actual STEM attainment, and investigates how patterns of academic achievement and social inclusion contribute to such disparities. The project will utilize data from five large-scale and longitudinal datasets that collectively provide the chance to investigate STEM trajectories at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender from 6th grade to the end of college.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. HRD 1348819. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Identifying and Reducing Job Discrimination

Principal Investigator: Debra Umberson
Additional Investigators: David Pedulla, Stanford University; and Devah Pager, Harvard University
Funded by: W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Discrimination based on race, gender, and parental status remains a persistent problem in the allocation of opportunity. Individuals are routinely denied access to employment, housing, credit, and other social and economic resources on the basis of their social group membership, and these individual level processes contribute to systematic and enduring forms of inequality. Labor market discrimination represents a particular concern, given the importance of economic selfsufficiency for individual, family, and child wellbeing. This project will generate original research to understand and address contemporary labor market discrimination, focusing on three main areas: (1) identifying the organizational policies and procedures that exacerbate or reduce discrimination against racial minorities, women, and parents; (2) understanding feedback effects of discrimination for job seekers; and (3) exploring interventions that may reduce discrimination.

School-based Marginalization, Social Behavioral Competencies, and Achievement: a Meta-analysis 

Principal Investigator: Fatima Varner
Co-Principal Investigator: Aprile Benner and Natasha Beretvas
Funded by: Institute of Education Sciences

The purpose of this project is to conduct a meta-analysis of potential links between school-based marginalization, social behavioral competencies, and academic achievement from kindergarten through high school. Marginalization within schools, a process through which students are excluded from the larger school culture due to their personal identities and experiences, represents a key malleable facet of school climate that may be amenable to intervention. The process of marginalization can be based on an individual's race or ethnicity, gender, sexual minority status, socioeconomic status (SES), immigration status, or language ability, among other identities and characteristics.

Do Gaps in Test Scores, Noncognitive Skills, and Health Grow Faster in School or Out? New Analyses Using the ECLS-K:2010

Principal Investigator: Paul von Hippel 
Funded by: Russell Sage Foundation

There are large gaps between children of different races, genders, and  socioeconomic levels--not just gaps in test scores, but also gaps in noncognitive skills and health. To what degree are these gaps due to school influences, and to what degree are gaps due to non-school influences?  To answer this question, we ask whether gaps grow faster before or after children start school, and whether gaps grow faster when school is in than when school is out. Multilevel growth models and nonparametric statistics are applied to new, nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11.

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Law Enforcement Recruitment and Training and Their Effects

Principal Investigator: Christine Williams
Co-Principal Investigator: Samantha Simon
Funded by: NSF

In this project, the relationship of recruitment and training to the subsequent responses of organizational personnel is investigated with specific reference to the recruitment and training of law enforcement personnel and the use of force. Three principal questions are addressed: (1) How do law enforcement departments decide whom to hire? (2) How are law enforcement officers trained to use force? (3) What do the recruitment strategies and training practices reveal about how law enforcement departments conceptualize demographic characteristics and force? Recruitment and training are understudied components of the use of force by law enforcement personnel. By focusing on recruitment and training, this study will increase scholarly understanding of their importance in explaining the critical behavior of organizational personnel. It will help scholars, law enforcement departments, and other stakeholders better understand how organizational change may occur. Its findings also will provide important insights into the development of new approaches to recruitment and training.

Phase 2: National Study of Learning Mindsets

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

This is a proposal to carry out a long-term follow-up to a cohort of students who participated in the National Study of Learning Mindsets (NSLM), which is a randomized trial evaluating a learning mindset intervention (growth mindset + purpose) conducted in a nationally-represenative sample of regular U.S. public high schools in the 2015-2016 school year. This will involve collecting and analyzing students’ end-of-high school (i.e. summer 2019) transcripts, which will report their course-taking, their grades and credits, their graduate status, and their test scores. It will also involve tracking students through the National Student Clearinghouse to discern long-term post-secondary outcomes. Analyses will determine whether (1) the intervention effects persist until the end of high school and into college, (2) the intervention effects are larger for students from racial, ethnic, and social class groups typically under-represented in higher education, and (3) whether the formal learning opportunities in a school and the informal learning climate explain variability across schools in where the intervention effect persists and where it does not.

National Study of Learning Mindsets 2018-2019 and Long-term Follow-up and Endowment Establishment

Prinicpal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by: UBS Optimus Foundation (Switzerland)

We propose to study the effects of adolescents’ mindsets—and the mindset environments of their schools—on their long-term futures in school. For example, we will learn whether a small change in a student’s mindset during the transition to high school can have an effect on their education and well-being over the four years of high school and through the college years. With this long-term data, we will be able to understand the public health benefits of mindset approaches to behavior change. In addition, by understanding how mindset effects vary across schools, we can develop stronger theory about mindsets while also learning how to better target mindset interventions.

National Study of Learning Mindsets (Phase 2)

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by:
 Raikes Foundation

Over the last few decades, the science of learning mindsets has informed the development of strategies to address psychological barriers that prevent students from meeting their full potential within the contexts of opportunities available to them. The ultimate benefit of learning mindsets for students, schools, and society depends on the argument that benefits will be sustained over time—i.e., that 9th grade benefits will turn into higher graduation and college enrollment rates, better outcomes in the labor market, or a longer lifespan. These potential long-term outcomes of learning mindsets, in turn, will surely depend on school context—whether or not the school environments allow a student to express and sustain learning mindsets, and whether or not the curriculum is adequate for translating these mindsets into learning and achievement. As groundbreaking as the NSLM currently is, it cannot yet address these questions due to short-term follow-ups and insufficient information about school curricula and course-taking pathways. These limitations stand in the way of making the strongest possible argument that learning mindsets should be a permanent fixture in education and ultimately changing school practices and policies to help students in need. Catalyzing large-scale investments from governments and districts into learning mindsets will be facilitated by the careful documentation of long-term effects and the elucidation of the curricular structures of schools on which they depend. This kind of long-term best practices mindset research can become an innovative driving force of education science, as scholars from many disciplines produce high-impact articles and reports based on the NSLM.

Math Classrooms, Student Mindsets and STEM Pathways in High School

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by: National Science Foundation

This project (proposed through EHR Core Research Level 2) investigates how 9th grade math classroom climates and student mindsets work together to broaden participation in STEM courses during the critical first years of high school. The project will enhance the National Study of Learning Mindsets (NSLM), which is the largest randomized-controlled trial (RCT) of a psychological intervention with high school students conducted to date, and the only one conducted in a generalizable, national probability sample of schools. The project has four objectives: (1) Code 8th to 10th grade STEM course-taking patterns among students who participated in the NSLM and describe inequalities . (2) Test whether a growth-mindset climate in 9th grade math predicts higher rates of persistence in 10th grade STEM courses among students from under-represented groups. (3) Test whether a growth-mindset climate in 9th grade math mediates the effect of growth-oriented teacher practices on STEM course persistence in 10th grade. (4) Test whether a growth mindset intervention in 9th grade is more (or less) effective at promoting advanced STEM course-taking in 10th grade, depending on the 9th grade math classroom climate.

Estimating and Understanding Effects of Teaching Teens that People Can Change.

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Additional Investigators: Christopher Beevers, Co-Investigator; Robert Josephs, Co-Investigator
Funded by: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

The transition to high school contains major social stressors and coincides with a sharp increase in depression and other internalizing symptoms. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to identify effective universal preventative interventions for depression and other internalizing disorders among high school students. This research integrates theories and methods across social, developmental, clinical, and biological psychology to address this gap in knowledge. This research focuses on the underlying beliefs or implicit theories that affect reactions to stressful social environments. An entity theory of personality is the belief that people do not have the potential to change. It is known to lead to maladaptive reactions in the wake of social stressors, such as the conclusion that one is a “loser” or “not likable.” By contrast, an incremental theory is the belief that people have the potential to change. It has been found to facilitate more hopeful interpretations that social stressors can improve. Preliminary published research with multiple independent samples (N =599) has found that an efficient, but well-timed and highly-persuasive, self-administered intervention to teach adolescents an incremental theory of personality can prevent increases in depressive symptoms over the first year of high school by 40%, nine months post-intervention. However, it is important to estimate the size of this effect in large (N~2,000), heterogeneous samples. With an eye toward improving theory and the intervention, this research will also identify students who benefit the most (or least) from the incremental theory message. Finally, daily-diary and laboratory stress methods will identify the principle mediating social-cognitive, neuroendocrine, and cardiovascular reactions that are implicated in the treatment effects. The incremental theory intervention has reduced cortisol over a week and immediate cardiovascular threat responses to social evaluative stressors in the laboratory. In summary, this research aims to use large samples to provide needed evidence about the use of an incremental theory intervention to prevent internalizing symptoms that accompany the transition to high school, and uncover social-cognitive and biological mechanisms. 

Toward a Sociological, Contextual Perspective on Psychological Interventions

Principal Investigator: David Yeager
Funded by: William T. Grant Foundation

This proposal seeks to understand heterogeneity in intervention effect sizes as a function of educational settings. The proposed work has both practical and theoretical implications, in that it will help practitioners understand the boundary conditions for using psychological interventions as well as lead to more integrative theories of how psychology and social processes combine to influence adolescent development.  The project will draw on data from over 12,000 students who have already participated in study experiments, as well as on data from novel experiments planned for later in the study, including a new nationally representative intervention experiment with middle school students to be conducted at the request of the White House and several philanthropic foundations.


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