The present research evaluates the potential for a scalable, online intervention to inspire the tendency to be a “learner”—to seek out effortful, challenging learning experiences. In two studies conducted in generalizable samples—one in the U.S. and one in Norway (total N = 21,121)—high school students were randomly assigned to a control activity or to an intervention that taught a growth mindset of intelligence, the belief that intellectual abilities
are developable. After the intervention, students completed a behavioral task assessing challenge-seeking. Relative to controls, students in the growth mindset intervention group manifested greater challenge-seeking behavior (ds = .20 to .24), and this effect was homogeneous across gender, racial, ethnic, social class, and ability groups, showing that growth mindset benefits can occur across the ability spectrum. Moreover, the Norway study demonstrated treatment effects on a real-life, consequential challenge-seeking behavior: enrollment in advanced math classes (which can affect lifelong trajectories of human capital acquisition). Importantly, growth mindset effects on advanced math course-taking were stronger when school procedures made it easier for students to get into advanced math after receiving the treatment. Overall, these findings reinforce the importance of growth mindset
for understanding and addressing the problem of how to increase willingness to be a “learner,” and justifies the need to look beyond grades when evaluating psychological interventions (since one way to get higher grades is to take easier classes). But the findings also highlight the need for psychological interventions to be paired with structural opportunities that provide ready access to rigorous learning experiences. This suggests that the intersection of sociology, economics, and psychology may prove fruitful for enhancing theories of human capital.