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Ep. 137: David Yeager - The Growth Mindset

January 22, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 137
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Ep. 137: David Yeager - The Growth Mindset
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 137: David Yeager - The Growth Mindset
Jan 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 137
Sucheta Kamath

“The only thing that could impede me was me“ are the words spoken by Amada Gorman, the first ever Youth Poet Laureate.  Amanda for many years suffered from a speech impediment and an auditory processing disorder that made it difficult to communicate intelligibly what her beautiful mind was so eloquently able to construct. Amanda’s personal discovery that I am more than my garbled speech encapsulates the growth mindset which comes into play when hardship looms over and seeing the possibility for a better self or better future turns bleak.

On this episode, David Yeager, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, addresses how a growth mindset injects doubt into that fixed mindset worldview and how a cultivated growth mindset can go on to unravel personal gifts that not only bring joy to oneself but are an abundant benefit to the world.

About David Yeager
David Yeager is an experimental development psychologist in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. In his academic research, he examines the causes of and solutions to adolescent health problems, such as bullying, depression, academic achievement, cheating, trust, or healthy eating. He often focuses on adolescent transitions—the transition to middle school, the transition to high school, or the transition to college—as a place where there is great opportunity (and risk) for young people’s trajectories. 

Yeager was the subject of a major New York Times Magazine article (“Who Gets to Graduate?”) by education speaker Paul Tough, in which he was named “one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of education.” He has co-authored work on grit and grit-testing with Angela Duckworth, and on growth mindset with Carol Dweck. He chaired and co-hosted a national summit on mindset interventions at the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, which led to the launch and co-chairing of the “Mindset Scholars Network,” an interdisciplinary research network housed at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), where he was a fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and more.

He is a William T. Grant Foundation scholar, a Faculty Research Associate at the UT Population Research Center, and was formerly a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching . His research has earned awards from the Spencer Foundation, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Society for Research on Child Development, the American Educational Research Association, the APA Science Directorate, and the International Society for Research on Aggression. He is a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group and the New Paths to Purpose network at the University of Chicago.

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

“The only thing that could impede me was me“ are the words spoken by Amada Gorman, the first ever Youth Poet Laureate.  Amanda for many years suffered from a speech impediment and an auditory processing disorder that made it difficult to communicate intelligibly what her beautiful mind was so eloquently able to construct. Amanda’s personal discovery that I am more than my garbled speech encapsulates the growth mindset which comes into play when hardship looms over and seeing the possibility for a better self or better future turns bleak.

On this episode, David Yeager, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, addresses how a growth mindset injects doubt into that fixed mindset worldview and how a cultivated growth mindset can go on to unravel personal gifts that not only bring joy to oneself but are an abundant benefit to the world.

About David Yeager
David Yeager is an experimental development psychologist in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. In his academic research, he examines the causes of and solutions to adolescent health problems, such as bullying, depression, academic achievement, cheating, trust, or healthy eating. He often focuses on adolescent transitions—the transition to middle school, the transition to high school, or the transition to college—as a place where there is great opportunity (and risk) for young people’s trajectories. 

Yeager was the subject of a major New York Times Magazine article (“Who Gets to Graduate?”) by education speaker Paul Tough, in which he was named “one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of education.” He has co-authored work on grit and grit-testing with Angela Duckworth, and on growth mindset with Carol Dweck. He chaired and co-hosted a national summit on mindset interventions at the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, which led to the launch and co-chairing of the “Mindset Scholars Network,” an interdisciplinary research network housed at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), where he was a fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and more.

He is a William T. Grant Foundation scholar, a Faculty Research Associate at the UT Population Research Center, and was formerly a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching . His research has earned awards from the Spencer Foundation, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Society for Research on Child Development, the American Educational Research Association, the APA Science Directorate, and the International Society for Research on Aggression. He is a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group and the New Paths to Purpose network at the University of Chicago.

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to another fantastic episode of Full PreFrontal. My mission is to help people understand that their brain's prefrontal cortex is wired to be the CEO of the brain. And as the chief executive officer, it is equipped to perform all C-Suite duties, including chasing higher goals, track and secure the interest of the future self, take critical decisions, and more often vetoing the undesirable, intensely pleasurable, immediate gratifying actions with the future in mind. And none of this is possible if the brain hasn't cultivated. However, the inner psychological world that includes the growth mindset and self efficacy skills, and the brain's prefrontal cortex, the Central Executive acts as the air traffic controller guiding repurposing tools taking decisions based on what ever resources are available, or sometimes inventing new ones. But one of the biggest mental resource that one needs to understand how to re cultivate is the attitudes and, and belief systems that one has towards oneself or to the worldly experience. And that is put to test of course, when we meet challenges when we encounter failures, and when we face a crisis. So with that in mind, my highly talented and incredibly informed guests help us understand that and none better than my my amazing guest today is Dr. David Yeager. He is an associate professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin. So go horns, I guess. He received his PhD in developmental and psychological sciences from the Stanford University School of Education in 2011. Prior to beginning his career as a researcher, he was a middle school teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I love the his hands on experience, he weaves into his research work. So he's going to talk about that as well. He also holds a M.Ed. in secondary English, and a BA in program of liberal studies. And I have a little hypothesis about humanities and how that influences somebody's mindset and their worldview. So I bet he has a lot of wisdom about that. And he has appointments at UT Dana Center, the Carnegie Foundation of the Advancement of Teaching and the University of Texas Population Research Center. And he's a member of Human Capital and Economic Opportunity, Global Working Group, and the New Paths to Purpose Network, both at the University of Chicago. So he has incredibly long resume. And I can tell you, but one of the most important things that you need to know is one of the outstanding research that he has just published, which talks about 12,000 students and an intervention, because we talk about growth mindset, but we need to know, can we do it? Can we change, particularly young adolescent mind, so I can't wait to talk to you, Dr. David Yeager, welcome to the podcast. 

David Yeager: Yeah, thank you for having me. It's great to be here. 

Sucheta Kamath: So I ask this question of all my guests. And psychologists tend to do a far better job in introspection as they answer this question. But as a young learner and a thinker, When did you become aware of your own self and discover your self-efficacy skills, so to speak, and what kind of, since we are going to talk about mindset, what kind of student were you when it came to this challenges? 

David Yeager: Yeah, interesting. I, I often talk about how supported I felt going to summer camp. And summer camp is this amazing opportunity if if you have you know, privileges enough to be able to access it, in that you have to do things that are totally new for you, like learn a completely new made up sport that the camp creates, you have to make a million new friends in like a week. You're learning new customs, new routines, and it's really challenging, but fun. And you do it in the context of incredibly supportive adults who have a belief in you that just can't be shaken. And I think my own confidence and learning new things and taking on new challenges comes in part from having had the experience of undergoing those uncertain moments of novelty and challenge, and knowing that with the right support, I get to kind of figure it out. And there's kind of two things I take from that experience. One is to the power of caring adults at the right time to give young people beliefs and expectations and efficacies. And also the importance of, you know, privileges that we have in our society that allow you to get in contact with those caring adults, and the right way. And so that's really shaped a lot of my my research and thinking about giving young people positive experiences, but also thinking about how they're equitably distribute it or not in our society. 

Sucheta Kamath: That's so profound. I had never really given a thought about summer camp as a really outside the academics giving you an opportunity to test your character as well as these novel experiences. And the second thing that comes to mind is Julia Segal, in 70s, talked about coined this term called presence of a charismatic adult, with with all those children with a very low or high ACE score, he found that when there was a charismatic adult present, who had this incredible acceptance of the child of for, for who he was, and and that mattered to that child, and that the child showed resilience. That that's wonderful. So since you study mindsets, how would you define mindset and growth mindset? The belief that one can improve seems to be simple, but incredibly nuanced and highly, highly relevant, when understood can be a very powerful mechanism or tool to change one's life trajectory. But I feel that people don't understand the term that well, it has been quite commonly used or abused. And there's some misconceptions that go with it. So I was just wondering if you could shed the light on that? 

David Yeager: Yeah, sure. So growth mindset is the belief that human qualities can be changed. You can have a growth mindset, or a fixed mindset about lots of different qualities, your intelligence, your personality, your morality, even another group's basic moral essence, they cannot be changed or not. The power of the growth mindset comes from the fact that it dismisses fixed mindset thinking, which is the idea that things can never change. You're either smart or not, that can't change, you're a good or bad person that can't change. You are a bully or a victim, that's never going to change. When people are in a fixed mindset, they have this kind of dichotomous thinking that single nouns or adjectives can completely and fully describe everything you need to know about a person or group. And that those things are fixed and can never change. And what we found, and lots of others have found, too, is that in a fixed mindset, when you think you're either smart, or dumb, winner or loser, etc, then difficulties seem to reveal to you that it can never get better. And it seems to reveal to others that you are in that bad group that can never change. And so a growth mindset injects doubt into that fixed mindset worldview.  

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, wow. Yeah.  

David Yeager: And allows you to have a basis for hope and optimism. Right? Someone could say sure, things can get better. But if you think fundamentally, the core essence of someone or some process can never be changed, it's really hard to believe that things can improve. And so growth mindset is really it's about a kernel of, of hope, in seeing the possibility for a better world a better future a better self. And not glossing over the difficulties of it, or the realities of that, but just believing it's possible. And we found that injecting that growth mindset idea, especially when people are at risk of facing a fixed mindset worldview allows them to see their own possibilities for moving forward. So we never tell kids in an academic study, that you know, your math is hard, and therefore you need to like study more. They know they need to study more, but if they feel like they don't have a math brain, and nothing they can do can fix their broken math brain, then why would they study that makes no sense to do that. But if you think actually by studying the right way, with the right support, you can actually develop your brain and your brain's abilities, you can grow new connections between neurons, you can have a more efficient, well connected brain, then hey, it's maybe kind of motivating to start learning. 

Sucheta Kamath: You know, I love the way you kind of have framed it that growth mindset you know, in, in spiritual world, they say a thorn can be used to remove a thorn, so, so you know, like, I love this idea that the growth mindset is going to be the tool to puncture the fixed mindset in order to make it a growth mindset. You know what I mean? And what's so interesting about the way you're describing this is, I don't know how good I am at something until and unless I do it, but then I haven't done it enough or haven't been exposed. So I don't even know how good or bad I'm I. But I can see the like growth fixed mindset can interfere with this ability to even venture into new things that pose challenge. So what's the relationship between or rather at the start when the student is a learner? When does this growth or fixed mindset come into play? 

David Yeager: Yeah, so it's, it's really, when you're facing a new challenge. And that's so important now in our current globalized economy, jobs, where you could show up and do something on autopilot and do it in a routine way, are disappearing, they're being turned into jobs being done by artificial intelligence that is supervised by other artificial intelligence, the jobs that human beings are doing and will need to be doing in the future are ones that involve putting together new ideas and complex in different ways, in ways that hadn't been done before. And that will inherently be challenging. Because if it was easy, then we could have already trained a program to do it. So we often say that growth mindset is important now, but it's only growing in importance when you consider the paths to a good free life in our current globalized economy, that are available to us. And so unlike laboratory studies, what we do is we would we might give someone an easy task or a hard task, and ask them their feelings about it. What how stressful is it? Do you want to take it on? Versus does it feel energizing to you? And we find that growth mindset causes people to view the hard task, as more energizing more positive. Even if they say it's stressful, they say it's a good stress, like I'm going to learn from this. If you give someone an easy task, though, they don't really need mindset, because you're not at risk of looking not smart. mindset is about the risk of of some deficient flaw in you or your ability being revealed to others in a way that makes you look bad or feel bad in front of them. If you if you stay in your comfort zone, it's always easy for you, there's never that risk for you. And so growth mindset doesn't really kick in. 

Sucheta Kamath: You know, the other terms I use when I work with adolescent or even children and adolescent, or even adults, I guess, is there's that a curious explorer mindset. And then there is a risk averse of success, protector mindset, you know, so I see kids who are curious about learning. And to me, by definition, isn't learning, posing a challenge, because it's new, and weren't learning be difficult because you haven't learned it? And so how what kind of explanation needs to be given to kids about their relationship to learning, which by inherently has risks built into it? And inherently, you will not be good at it? Because you haven't mastered it, let alone you have learned it. So why are children walking into that scenario expecting to be intuitively or intuitive about it? Or good at it? Are we doing something wrong about in the environment? 

David Yeager: Yeah, that's a great question. So one thing I want to say, as a developmental psychologist, is is our view is that human beings are inherently learners, that from birth, the human brain is designed to learn about and adapt to the environment. And by the time kids are 14, and refusing to do their trinomials, worksheets, and algebra, we often think the opposite that everything is pushing against learning for these teenagers. But that's actually a cultural adaptation that happens because of our particular way of doing education. That's not human nature. So given that young people are inherently learners, then we add, but we see that they may not readily embrace challenging learning later in life. Then we ask, how are we socializing that? What are we doing and saying, and one of the contributions of mindset research is to say, maybe we're giving kids a worldview, in which people can be put into smart or not smart boxes, and in which other people whose opinions we care about or who control our access to our outcomes, will be judging and evaluating us and putting us into those boxes. So that's led to really interesting research on how parents label kids. So let's understand this on this beautiful Work showing that the way that moms play catch with two year old kids in a videotape session, specifically whether moms say you're such a good thrower, right labeling the trait of the kid, versus focusing on process, like, isn't this fun or look how we're throwing, predicts whether the kid develops a fixed or growth mindset when they're older at age seven. And also, especially for girls, whether they have anxiety in math, later in life, like when they're nine or 10. And the underlying hypothesis is that learning is supposed to be challenging. That's thrilling when you can learn and make mistakes without fear of evaluation. But once you are socialized to think that other people will be judging you as either smart or not on the basis of your failures or successes while learning, then you become more reluctant to learn, especially publicly. And you know, that's it's subtle, it's gradual, it happens over years, it's embedded in our culture, but kids get the message at some point. And then they shy away, because they don't want to be judged. 

Sucheta Kamath: Two thoughts come to my mind: At a very young age, As a parent, when my kid was in elementary, there, the school psychologist had a wonderful advice to, she gave me which have has really helped me tremendously what she said to us this language, you must be very proud. So anything that my kid did, when I shifted my language and say, You must be really proud that you finished it, you must be really proud that you could crack the code of this math problem, I kind of started deleting myself from that equation of I am validating your worth, or your success. And second, you probably as a middle school teacher, you will shudder listening to this, but I grew up in India, and one of the most cruel things that I was exposed to was, and this happened from kindergarten to till 12th grade, that they would display your grade ranking on the door, every semester, every every interval of education. And so and on top of that the people who failed would be on the bottom with a line and red names and numbers. And now that when I went into this field, eventually I was horrified to know how traumatic it was, must have been for those who were like teetering on the border, but they kind of it helped them cultivate this fixed mindset like I'm doomed, you know, look at my ranking doesn't change. So that probably is devastating. But I was also reading some research about us students in the US, you know, the OECD, the Organization of Economic Cooperation, you've done a lot of work in that area, but that the PISA testing, the US students claim to have a very high confidence level that 85% of the 15 year old students tested are claiming that they want to get into the highly skilled professions, but only 17% are actually performing at the highest level of their capabilities. So there's some gap in this preparedness and willingness to take risks. Wow, that must be scary stuff for us as a country, right? 

David Yeager: Yeah, yeah. So Carol Dweck, and I gave a keynote at South by Southwest in March, virtual, where we talked about that, we talked about how there's this gap between the aspirations of our young people and their preparation. And it's a problem because everyone deserves to see a path for themselves in our society. And lots and lots of kids are not prepared to have a meaningful place where they can have access to the kinds of freedoms and resources that that they need to thrive. We hope that mindset research can be part of the solution. And we think that the kind of American obsession with grades and ranking and test scores, and also, maybe some of the damage from the self-esteem movement, causing people to overly praise kids and tell them that they're the best has created a fragility in our students, where they are not willing to choose the hardest assignments that might teach them something, in part because they would risk this image of themselves as smart and brilliant. But eventually, reality comes calling and they're not ready. So, so one thing we've we've looked at is that fear of challenge seeking because of the implications for feelings of failure and how that feeds into the under skilling of the American workforce. But the you also talked about India, and so we've spent a lot of time talking with the folks who run the PISA including a conference we hosted with them on mindset a few weeks ago. And there'll be a book coming out about it in the new year. And Carolyn, I did some analyses recently, mindset predicts test scores pretty much around the world and 72 or 76 nations, I think, where does it not predict test scores? One answer is Mainland China. And you look into what's happening in mainland China, what you see is that kids are already doing something like 58 hours of schoolwork per week. So kid with a growth mindset can't possibly spend any more time learning compared to what's already expected in the culture. If anything, they might do less of the rote preparation, preparation for tests and more of the Curiosity learning. But does that mean that growth mindset doesn't matter? And in Chinese society? Actually not? It turns out, the PISA also measured a fear of failure, are you afraid that you will disappoint others and be no good? If you fail? In China, where mindset doesn't predict test scores, there's the strongest association between mindset and fear of failure in the entire developed world. So there are lots of psychological consequences about stress, and maybe even the origins of depression, that can come from a fixed mindset, even if it's not turning into your grades or test scores in a given setting. 

Sucheta Kamath: How is India faring? Do you know research about India and how it approaches because it's very top heavy, just like China? Very, very interested in education, but also very rigid about how much the student learner should be committed to learning? 

David Yeager: Yeah, I'd have to go back and check the data I had. It was not at either extreme as either highest prediction or lowest. So that's why I don't know it. But there has been beautiful work done by Krishna Salani. And I need a return on differences in beliefs about ability in India versus the US. And what they find is that growth mindset versus fixed mindset about ability in general, is not as influential in India, because it's more because there's a belief that almost anyone can improve. That's pretty universal. But where there is a big distinction is beliefs about who gets to be at the top, who could possibly be the smartest. And there there's a kind of fixed mindset believe, or a version of fixed mindset that says only some people can ever be truly great at math, great at science, great creators, great writers. And that belief about only some is a strong predictor of coping and challenge seeking and so on in the Indian context. 

Sucheta Kamath: Wow. So can you help us distinguish between failure and error analysis? Or looking back at mistakes to learn from those mistakes versus feeling that you have failed? And you can, you're done, you're in or you're out? Is that good way to think about these two experiences when it comes to learning? 

David Yeager: Sure, I mean, I think, you know, everybody says now that the new popular psychology idea is to say, failure is the best teacher, like, we just watched Star Wars episode eight last night with my eight and 10 year old and that's the last thing Yoda says before he, like burns down the Jedi tree is like failure is the best teacher. And that's like, not really true. Because like, failure is an opportunity to learn. But failure with no learning is not good. It just feels bad. And it also means you failed. So you're right to say it's the analysis of failure. What is the lesson from a failure? And where mindsets come in is that it predicts avoidance of failure analysis. So because you just don't want to sort through the wreckage. If you think what you're going to find underneath the wreckage of your failure is that you were either dumb or a bad person. So you'd rather look away. You don't want to pay attention to it. And a growth mindset, though, you want to look through the records, because that's how you're going to fix the problem going forward. And it It comes from a belief that it's even possible to fix the problem. If you think there's nothing you can do. Why would you? Why would you sort through the wreckage. There's a beautiful study by Jason Mosher at Michigan State that used EEG methodology to look at brains in real time, as people were making mistakes. And what they found is that regions of the brain associated with failure analysis, were more active. They were like on fire in a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset though in a Jason Moser study, the brains are cooler. It was like they said, Get me out of here, I don't want to I don't want to analyze these these mistakes or failures. 

Sucheta Kamath: So and so it's described as like the brain is looking away. It's not attending to the information regarding the failure content, right? 

David Yeager: The technical term we use is avoidance motivation, avoiding the growth mindset, you see approach motivation? 

Sucheta Kamath: So is this something to do with attentional regulation? Because this is happening in pre frontal system, right? This kind of attending to mistakes from our perspective, because it's a, it's a perspective taking exercise, right? So I'm thinking as a doer, I'm looking at a mistake as a doer. But I'm also looking at the error as an evaluator of the doors mistake. So is that a psychological phenomenon? Or is also cognitive phenomenon? Is it because somebody doesn't have the capacity to analyze the nature and cause and effect relationship of that mistake? Or it could be just one? How do we know?  

David Yeager: I think, I mean, the, the mindsets work, is almost always talking about motivation. So it's not really about whether someone can do something, it's it's, what are the reasons for doing it. But I think there's the latest systems around the brain and the reward mechanisms, the dopaminergic system, for instance, are really, really tying together motivation with basic cognitive functioning. So like human beings don't attend to information for just to build a cognitive model of the world, they do it to address a goal or a need, right, like needs and once drive attention and learning. Yes, and there are lots and lots of very basic studies, you can turn off the reward region and like a rat's brain, and then they don't learn anything kind of stuff. And but I think the most compelling evidence is coming out of adolescence research, suggesting that one of the main things that puberty does is a sensitizes, the brain to reward, especially social rewards, and punishments. And the evolutionary reason for that, according to evolutionary psychologists, is that social learning drives your fit in the group and your ability to thrive and succeed in society. So there's a link between the basic cognitive mechanisms of attention and learning and updating beliefs, and a motivational drive to be a successful contributing meaningful member of a society. And adolescence is like at the nexus of that, and a lot of ways. 

Sucheta Kamath: So let's talk about your study. So there have been in the beginning, the interventions that were created, were even like, something like eight sessions over eight weeks, but then you came up with this brilliant offer to see if in the what is the shortest amount of time that somebody can be intervened with? And what's the best impact? Can you tell us about your study? And and you didn't like look at 10 students or 1000 students? Like it was more than that. 10,000 students, right? 

David Yeager: Yeah. Yeah. And I just just to clarify, there were a few of us who worked on it all together, Dave Paunesku, Carissa Romero, all at Stanford at the same time. Right, but I was the PI for the studies that that tested it at the largest scale. But um, you know, my experience in the classroom, taught me that most things that are given to practitioners come from tiny studies of like, 20 people. And then you go to their professional development session, and they say, research shows do this. And I remember sitting in the back and saying, research did not show that you talk to four people, like that's not telling me what I should do in Tulsa, and who are those four people and where were they? It's not my school. And there's just there's a need to like, really test something and test it in your state and in your kind of school. It's just really important in making the case to a practitioner, they should take something seriously. And I had this driven home when I started doing my own research, and I was giving talks in schools, and you could just see teachers rolling their eyes, if you didn't show up with the goods. And so once I started having more opportunities for research, I vowed to do educational experiments in settings that would be directly relevant to teachers where they wouldn't sit in the back of a PD session and roll their eyes and say, Here we go again. I have no control over teachers, but I have the minimum I wanted the evidence to be good enough that it would be compelling to people who are legitimately skeptical of nonsense advice. And so when I looked at growth mindset in 2007-2008, I saw really promising effects But in studies with, you know, 40, people had gotten the treatment and it took eight in person sessions. And it's just obviously not scalable. And it wasn't trying to be scaled, it was trying to be a testable hypothesis. And it was amazing the work that those early studies did. But if you really want to know about real world policy and educational practice, you got to be thinking about bigger experiments. So the initial studies said, Can we take the core of the growth mindset argument, the idea that the brain is like a muscle and can grow, and whittle it down into like, 25 minutes. And if you could, then you could also do it on a computer. And then you could just bring kids in during PE or something health class and have them do the 30 minute thing, and see what happens to their grades. And this was, again, a collaborative effort with several other scientists. But the first few times we did it, it totally worked. But it was like a half court shot, we didn't know if 15 year olds could learn something new about their brain in 30 minutes. And if there's lots of 30 minute classroom sessions that teens immediately forget. So why would they remember ours? But it did work. And it was really promising. And they're not massive effects, like a multi year training program, but they're meaningful effect sizes, when you look at students who are going to fail and didn't fail. So around 2011-2012, we started having this promising evidence that we thought, Well, now that it's 30 minutes, could it go to the whole country? Like if, like, if we were influential enough, like could could we get the whole country? And so we were asked, actually, by the Obama White House in 2013, when Tom Coolio will starting the Office of Science and Technology Policy. And someone who Maya Shankar just been recruited to start off with Senator Tom Cleal, to try to adapt growth mindset to be available for free for the whole country. And we said, we don't actually know if it would work, we want to do a study first. And but if you want to know about a national intervention, you have to randomly sample the schools. So you can generalize to the sample of schools across the country, if you don't randomly sample, you're going to end up with, you know, your pick the 10 schools in Austin, and we have 30 schools in Florida and five in New York. And then you can claim it's a big study, but it's not in any more generalizable. So we we did the first ever random sample experiment for intervention for teenagers. And it took a long time. 

Sucheta Kamath: Insane scale. Yeah.

David Yeager: It's a study. And it's a large sample size. But actually, the more important thing in that sample size, is that the schools truly represent the variety in the US. To give you a sense, the typical education experiment is like 2-3% rural students, right. But rural schools make up something like 40% of schools in America. So this is like a huge problem. And so what we did for the first time, was randomly sample schools, and then really make sure that we can understand the variation across different different types of schools in America. And amazingly, the study worked. Like it really, I mean, it was very nearly, you know, a failure because, at first we could have learned from, but like, it's a, it's kind of crazy to think that you could take kids from 76 schools across the country into the computer lab, and have them sit down for two different 25 minute sessions, and then prevent them from failing math and science a year later. But that's what we found. Then we replicated it in Norway with another huge sample there that in a paper that just came out. And we find it doesn't just improve grades, it causes kids to take harder math classes. So in that critical ninth grade year, rather than drop out of advanced algebra and, or advanced geometry, they stay on the track to advanced math that keeps them ready for college and career. So it's very exciting.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, and what's so interesting, and maybe you can talk, what is it that the students learned in that period when they were in front of the computer, but what you found was that your program, your training, made them these collaborators, minature collaborators, and they also were made to do this writing exercise where they were supposed to give advice to others with that newly minted growth mindset that you shall write. So kind of a perspective shift exercise. What so what is what was it that you put in that program? And why do you think it worked? 

David Yeager: Yeah, that's a great question. So, we don't think that you can just tell teenagers what to believe, and say it's good for you to believe this. And then they'll remember it. In fact, there are lots of examples where that doesn't work at all, like, almost every health class in every high school in America says, guys, don't you know, drugs are really bad? And you know, you shouldn't do these other things. And teens are like, thanks for the information, but I'll make my own choices. And so we didn't think we should say, you should do your homework because your brain will get smarter. And we didn't think that would help, especially the kinds of kids who are at risk of not doing their homework. So instead, what we said is, you guys actually understand High School far better than we do. We're just researchers, only you understand what it's like to be a ninth grader starting High School under these stresses. In addition, the wisdom that you've gained would be really useful for other people that are going to be in your shoes next fall. So if you wouldn't mind, could you just write a letter? Imagine a student who's saying, Man, a math is so hard, I've done math, what could you say to them, to really convince them that they can get smarter. And what you find is that by asking people to be advocates for a message, they end up convincing themselves, because they write the kinds of arguments in this essay that would have worked on them. And I feel pretty strongly about this approach, because it gives the young person that agency, we're not telling people what to think we're saying, you actually do know a lot already. You can make your own choices and arguments, and we just, we're going to share them. And then we make sure to keep our promise, we do update the treatment every year with letters that students have written in former years. So that way, they're, they're paying it forward. 

Sucheta Kamath: I think what's so amazing to me about this approach is again, I think you're so I mean, your practitioner, informing your research and your research now is informing the practice, that I think there is an incredible respect for somebody having that knowledge about how the system ideally should work, even though I'm not doing a good job, but I kind of know what will lead to my success. And you're just tapping into that so beautifully. And the second thing is, I think, just by simply making an argument from two points of view, it's not worth it to take higher or challenging math versus Oh, my God, it's so valuable. And you shouldn't be doing higher math, because it's, you're going to get better grade, but it's just great. It's gonna be fun. But we can't leave this conversation without talking of somebody else's growth mindset, or mindsets. So you your work Carol's work talks a lot about are all the researchers in the mindset, arena, talk about the attitudes and mindsets of those who are educating these children. So may they be parents or educators? What has research pointed out and what are we missing as adults when we are dealing with motivational management of highly apathetic generation, which every By the way, every generation calls the younger one apathetic? Right? 

David Yeager:  Right, right. Yeah, I think, um, as we've gotten more into this work, we've learned that we're actually pretty good at directly training students growth mindsets. But it turns out it the most interesting finding in the national study I just described is that the effects depend on the teachers mindset. If the teacher has a growth mindset, it squashes the treatment effect. It's like, if the kid believes Yes, I can grow and learn, but then they go to their math class. And the teacher says, only some of you are smart enough to do well in this class. They wouldn't say that directly. But you know, in there, they would apply it in who they give attention to and who they praise and how they allocate their time. And it turns out that fixed mindset classroom doesn't give the student the opportunity and support that they need to act on their growth mindset. And we could have just stopped there and said, Okay, so only do the treatment and growth mindset classrooms. But it's far more interesting to say, Well, wait a second, how do you change the adults so that adults now support the students mindset? And we asked ourselves that question, and we realized we didn't know the answer, because there's not a ton of research on adults mindsets. So we have decided, as of a year ago, to define the single biggest challenge and really the hardest scientific puzzle as having to do with adults mindsets. What are they doing that supports the kids growth mindset or not? How can we make an argument to adults? And what we're learning is it's really challenging and it's challenging because we as adults have professional roles and expectations we live in organizations with if you're a teacher, a principal, a district, you feel pressure from all the different sides. And it's hard to change what you believe in what you do, because all that stuff makes you feel boxed in. So whatever is done with growth mindset, and teachers and adults has to be attuned to the realities of the pressures people are facing to hit the test scores to make the school board happy to have parents feel like their kids are going to good colleges. And that depends on straight A's and so like, a lot of realities that teachers are facing, but we think it's gonna be a fun challenge. And we want to encourage researchers and practitioners to work on it with us. 

Sucheta Kamath: Marva Collins  comes to mind when it comes to a teacher in the suburbs of Chicago or inner city of Chicago, actually showed that children her elementary kids could learn Shakespeare. So yeah, and and I'll give you a quick story of my own when I was nine years old, I really loved arts and in India, every child learns a musical instrument or dance or to sing. And pretty much my singing was out. So I thought, Yes, why not dance? So So I showed up at the end, the teachers hosted dance classes in their homes, I walked in, and you enter people's houses by removing your footwear, I enter and the teacher looked at my feet and say, you can't dance and I was sent home that instant. Because I have very long feet for for a nine year old. Can you imagine how devastating that was. And I actually believed and to this, I wouldn't say I'm not fond of dancing, but I kind of have this feeling that I'm not a good dancer. And and I just, it profoundly shaped my thing. God, my bread and butter didn't depend on me, I was not competing with Beyonce. But that was a kind of a culture, cultural hole that I have seen a lot, at least in in a lot of opportunities were determined by people's assessment of you at a face value. And the second question came to my mind about as you were talking about this, as an educator, as a parent, you are you need to work on your own mindset. And you need to work on espousing this belief in other people that depend on you that they can harbor a better mindset. So it's twofold. So I can't wait to see what your research shows. Is there anything I didn't ask you about mindset that you think our audience should know? 

David Yeager: Well, I just want to react to that. That story about being kid I think that the dilemma for adults who have expertise in an area is that they want to give honest feedback to kids and help them pick something that's going to work for them. But they don't always know how to communicate it in a way where the kid has hope and optimism where you don't do damage. Yeah. And that's true in the coaching scenario, like you described. But it's also true for anyone who gives anyone feedback, whether it's a boss and mentor. And Jeff Cohen and Claude Steele call that the mentors dilemma is really hard to simultaneously give critical feedback and motivate. And so if there's any real takeaway from this, is that not only do our young people need to believe in the possibility of change and growth through growth mindset, but we need to be attuned to the fact that little messages that we give after a particular times can have a big cascading effect. And once we appreciate that, it will make us think carefully about some of the things that we say, but also, I don't know we need to have a little compassion to ourselves too, because it's just hard to know sometimes how what we say make someone else feel. And so I think if we all take a learning stance about our interactions, and how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves that I think we're going to move toward figuring it out. And I'm excited to see how we can contribute a little bit of science and a little bit of a framework that can help people make progress. 

Sucheta Kamath: And you know, to your point, I don't want to kind of dismiss the very incredible influences I've had off people who had growth mindset. My mom is one such individual she always raised us to feel and believe that we can do anything and we in fact in our my from kindergarten until 12th grade we had a rule every year during the summer vacation, we had to learn one new skill. It had to be a skill not some like not reading a book is not a skill. So you so I learned so many things. And one quick story shout out to my mom that she used to take these containers where you get like oil containers you know, like a cooking oil, and then she would poke holes on both sides and put a tie a rope and she would jump take us to the nearby river I grew up in a very tiny village outside Bombay. And she would jump off the rock into the running river to show us how to swim. And she said, this is how I do it. She wasn't a swimmer, she never drowned. And we've learned, so she just demonstrated this kind of a way to feel that you can do anything, you would have been good at it, you might not master it, but you can do anything. So I do, I got the message of hope, from a very powerful presence in my personal life. So that really helped. So as we end to questions, did you have anybody who, who kind of infused this growth mindset in your personal life? And what are two favorite books that you recommend to our audience? 

David Yeager: Yeah. Well, I'm fortunate because I have the actual Carol Dweck is my actual mentor. I know so jealous. So that's great. But apart from Carol, I mean, I just so many so many mentors, but one that stands out is Uri Treisman, who is a MacArthur Genius Award winner for his calculus instruction and is featured in Paul Tuffs book his recent book on on higher education now now titled Inequality Machine, and he's just that he's he's like Jaime Escalante. He's like the world's greatest calculus professor. And he really, really saw something in me when I was a graduate student at Stanford, and he was a professor at Texas. And I owe a lot of my skill of teaching and also a lot of my ability to think about policy to Uri so he's a big mentor of mine. In terms of books, I mean, my my favorite book is Brothers Karamazov off because I just love the mixture of like philosophy and like a desire to make the world a better place. But just appreciation of the realities of people and where they're at that but I just recently finished all the Robert Carroll books and so I'm I'm like really loving those books in part because of it's helping me have a new appreciation of the importance of the US senate and also because it is set for the most part here in Central Texas and so it's kind of fun to see why everything is named after LBJ and and his cronies. 

Sucheta Kamath: So and do you know Robert Carroll's process of writing the entire book series on LBJ. 

David Yeager: I know a little bit about it. I recently was on a vacation and I was told I wasn't allowed to work, which is frustrating for me. So instead I read Robert Carroll's book called Working. 

Sucheta Kamath: I look Yeah, I thought I read it. I read that book before I started reading his biographies but oh my god very inspirational thank you for being here with us and and just really a smashing brilliant information and the way you approach particularly, really showing interventions that has deep meaning for me. So I appreciate your time in spite of all the babies you're taking care of at home, and and supporting this virtual world for your children, as well as all the research students that you're supporting. I thank you for your time very much, and everybody, thank you for tuning in. If you love what you're listening, please share and we will be putting in a lot of notes and show notes for Dr. jaegers work. So once again, thank you for being here today. 

David Yeager: Thanks for having me. That's the look.