Category: Educational

This cheap, brief “growth mindset” intervention shifted struggling students onto a more successful trajectory

GettyImages-499346152.jpgBy guest blogger Bradley Busch

Can a brief video telling students that it’s possible to improve their intelligence and abilities make much difference to their educational outcomes? And if fostering a “growth mindset” in this way does make a difference, does it benefit all students and schools equally?

Research on growth mindset over the past twenty years has progressed from experiments in a laboratory into real world settings, such as classrooms. This has shown that having a growth mindset leads to a small but positive improvement in grades and better mental health. But to date, little work has examined whether a brief mindset intervention is likely to help some adolescents more than others, especially those at greater risk of poor outcomes later in life.

Keen to rectify this, 23 of the leading researchers in this field, including the likes of Carol Dweck, Angela Duckworth and David Yeager, recently collaborated on a large study which they released briefly as a pre-print (they are now revising the manuscript pending submission to peer review). As a Chartered Psychologist who delivers mindset workshops, I believe the preliminary findings are extremely promising.

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Investigating the “STEM gender-equality paradox” – in fairer societies, fewer women enter science

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The percentage of women with STEM degrees is lower in more gender-equal countries, as measured by the WEF Gender Gap Index. Image from Stoet & Geary, 2018.

By Alex Fradera

The representation of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths) is increasing, albeit more slowly than many observers would like. But a focus on this issue has begun throwing up head-scratching anomalies, such as Finland, which has one of the larger gender gaps in STEM occupations, despite being one of the more gender equal societies, and boasting a higher science literacy rate in its girls than boys. Now a study in Psychological Science has used an international dataset of almost half a million participants that confirms what they call the “STEM gender-equality paradox”: more gender-equal societies have fewer women taking STEM degrees. And the research goes much further, exploring the causes that are driving these counterintuitive findings.

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Children with higher working memory are more inclined to finger count (and less able kids should be encouraged to do the same)

GettyImages-833912150.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Finger counting by young kids has traditionally been frowned upon because it’s seen as babyish and a deterrent to using mental calculations. However, a new Swiss study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has found that six-year-olds who finger counted performed better at simple addition, especially if they used an efficient finger counting strategy. What’s more, it was the children with higher working memory ability – who you would expect to have less need for using their fingers – who were more inclined to finger count, and to do so in an efficient way. “Our study advocates for the promotion of finger use in arithmetic tasks during the first years of schooling,” said the researchers Justine Dupont-Boime and Catherine Thevenot at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne.

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Belief in brain myths and child development myths continues even among those who’ve studied psychology

GettyImages-532465705.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Despite countless myth-busting articles online, dedicated bloggers like Neuroskeptic, and the publication of a recent book described by Ben Goldacre as “a masterful catalogue of neurobollocks” (disclaimer: I wrote it), and another in the same series addressing child development myths, public surveys continue to show stubborn, widespread belief in many brain myths and psychology myths, even among people with neuroscience training. Now the latest survey of the public via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, published open-access in Psychology, suggests that little has changed. Belief in many brain and child developmental myths remains rife, even among those who’ve taken psychology courses.

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Brainwave evidence hints at benefits from a school mindfulness programme

GettyImages-143176827.jpgBy Emma Young

Recent studies of mindfulness schools programmes for teenagers have produced mixed results, with some failing to find benefits, even when extra features were added to try to make them more effective. But given the demonstrated benefits of mindfulness training on stress and wellbeing in adults – and the urgent need to find ways to reduce stress and prevent depression in teenagers – it’s not surprising that researchers are pursuing work in the area.

Advocates of mindfulness for kids may, then, take some comfort from a new study in Developmental Science that found an 8-week training programme improved emotion processing in 16-18-year-olds. In theory, this might reduce their vulnerability to depression, write the researchers, from Bangor University, UK.

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Nature vs Nurture: Mothers with multiple children have an intuitive grasp of behavioural genetics


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Lower scores equals more accurate estimates of genetic inheritance. From Willoughby et al 2018

By Christian Jarrett

Several prominent psychologists have recently raised concerns that the “radical left” has a stranglehold on free speech and thought in our universities. The psychologists argue this includes biological denialism: claims that differences between individuals and groups are entirely the result of the biased system or mere social constructions. More generally, many commentators are horrified by the apparent resurgence of far-right ideologies and their twisted interpretation of genetic science.

It’s timely, then, that a team of researchers, led by psychologist Emily Willoughby at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, recently surveyed over 1000 online US participants, asking them about their personal circumstances, education, political orientation, and also to estimate the relative contribution of genes and the environment to variation in 21 different human traits, from eye colour to intelligence. This is probably the most detailed study to date of people’s insights into behavioural genetics, and the findings have just been published as a pre-print at the Open Science Framework.

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Your childhood best friend’s intelligence probably rubbed off on you

By Christian Jarrett

Picture yourself aged 11: who was your best friend and how smart were they? The answer may have shaped your life more than you think. A new study published as a pre-print at PsyArXiv reports that participants’ IQ at age 15 was correlated with the IQ of whomever was their best friend years earlier, when that friend was aged 11, even after factoring out the participants’ own earlier intelligence, as well as a host of other potentially confounding variables.

We already know, thanks to previous research, that our school-age peers shape our personalities, our powers of self-control, and the chances that we’ll get into trouble, so it’s to be expected that they also affect our intelligence (and we theirs). Surprisingly, however, this possibility had not been studied before now. “Our findings add … another layer of evidence for the important and pervasive influence of peers on a host of traits during adolescence,” the researchers said.

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Why you’re more likely to remember something if you read it to yourself out loud

GettyImages-626070562.jpgBy guest blogger Bradley Busch

Dr. Seuss wrote “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”. The trouble is, we forget so much of what we read. Is there a way to read that makes it more likely we’ll remember things?

Keen to answer this question, researchers Noah Farrin and Colin MacLeod, from the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada, ran a study published in Memory. Their results shed new light on how to study more effectively.

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Accessible science reporting can foster overconfidence in readers

After reading an accessible science news story, participants were more likely to feel they had no need to consult an expert to find out more

By Alex Fradera

A scientifically informed public is a wonderful thing, and at the Digest we’re happy to be part of cultivating it. But we’d be the first to admit that many scientific issues are too complex for a single article to resolve decisively. When it comes to making consequential life decisions, it’s still important to defer to experts who can draw nuanced conclusions from looking at the big picture. But experts are increasingly denigrated, and a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science suggests that one cause may be our easy access to information, giving us the impression that we already know all we need. Specifically, science reporting that is accessible, breezy and details-light can discourage readers from consulting experts on that topic.

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No “far transfer” – chess, memory training and music just make you better at chess, memory training and music

By Alex Fradera

Learning to ride a BMX obviously helps you handle a racing bike. How about a motorbike? A unicycle? A helicopter? The question of how far learning generalises beyond the original context has continued to vex psychologists. The answer has real-life implications for education and health. For instance, it bears on whether, by undertaking activities like brain training or learning chess, we can expect to boost our overall memory or intelligence – what’s known as “far transfer”. In a new review in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Giovanni Sala and Fernand Gobet of the University of Liverpool conclude that in fact the evidence for far-transfer is very weak.

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