Assignment: Growth Mindsets and the Control Condition

For this assignment, we’ll take a deeper look at some of the experimentation used in Carol Dweck’s research about Growth Mindsets.

Background

A control condition is usually considered to be a baseline, or the reference point from which you view the other conditions. We use the baseline/control condition to view the impact of the other conditions. Remember that in the Dweck study, the control condition was the situation where students were given general praise (“Wow, you did well!”) but the experimenter did not explain this performance as being based on either ability or effort. The experimental conditions were those in which the student received praise tied specifically to either their ability or for effort.

Notice in Figure 1 below that the students praised for ability were about 20% MORE likely to choose easy problems than those in the control condition. This suggests that praise focused on ability increases the likelihood that that child will select a practice set that is well within his or her existing ability.

Bar graph showing the likelihood of students choosing easy problems when they were praised for ability, general praise about nothing in particular, or effort. Of those praised for ability, nearly 70% chose easy problems, while 50% of those in the control group chose easy problems, meaning that 20% more students chose easy problems if they were praised for ability than if they were praised for nothing in particular.

Figure 1. Notice the increased likelihood for students to choose easy problems if they were praised for their abilities, as compared with the control group.

Now look at the next figure (below), again using the control condition as your starting point. Praise for effort has had the opposite effect than praise for ability. Now the students are more than 40% less likely to choose easy problems—or, in other words, more than 40% more likely to choose challenging problems, even if they may fail at a lot of those problems.

Bar graph showing how the percent of students who chose easy problems who were praised for effort was only 10%, as compared with the control group of 50%.

Figure 2. Notice the decreased likelihood for students to choose easy problems if they were praised for their effort, as compared with the control group.

Using a control condition properly doesn’t necessarily change your interpretation of the results, but it can give you a richer, more interesting view of the results. From this data so far, we can conclude that:

  • The likelihood of choosing easy problems goes down as you go from praise for ability to praise for effort.
  • The likelihood of choosing difficult problems goes up as you go from praise for ability to praise for effort.
  • Praise for ability and praise for effort have opposite effects on type of problem chosen.

Example

Now imagine that the results had produced the pattern shown in the graph below. (These are not the correct results, but see if you can apply what you just learned about control conditions when interpreting the graph.)

Look at it closely, then let’s interpret the results. What does the bar graph tell us?

Bar graph showing the percentage of students who chose easy problems when praised for ability, praised for effort, or in the control group. Just under 70% of those praised for ability chose easy problems. 20% of those in the control group chose easy problems and 40% of those in the effort group chose easy problems.
  1. The likelihood of choosing easy problems goes down as you go from praise for ability to praise for effort. This means that the praise-for-ability group is more likely to choose easy problems when compared with the effort group.
  2. The likelihood of choosing difficult problems goes up as you go from praise for ability to praise for effort. This means that the praise-for-effort group is less likely to choose easy problems.
  3. Praise for ability and praise for effort both results in choosing easier problems. This means that, based on the baseline/control, both ability-praise and effort-praise lead to greater preference for easy problems. True, the amount of increase differs between groups, but results like those above would suggest that any additional praise leads to learning strategies that preserve success at the cost of an opportunity to stretch and improve.

Assignment

For this assignment, you’ll interpret two hypothetical results, shown as bar graphs, from Dweck’s experiment about types of praise.

Part 1: Analyze the graph below. If 80% of the control group, given generic praise, chose easy questions, then what inferences can we make about praise given for ability and praise given for effort?Bar graph showing the percentage of students who chose easy problems when praised for ability, praised for effort, or in the control group. 60% of those praised for ability chose easy problems. 80% of those in the control group chose easy problems and 40% of those in the effort group chose easy problems.

Part 2: Analyze the graph below. If 60% of those praised for ability chose easy problems, but 40% of those praised for effort and those given general praise chose easy problems, what inferences can we make about praise?
Bar graph showing the percentage of students who chose easy problems when praised for ability, praised for effort, or in the control group. 60% of those praised for ability chose easy problems, and 40% of those in the control group as well as 40% of those in the effort group chose easy problems.

Part 3: Write a summary paragraph describing the importance of the control group in interpreting results to psychological experiments. Why was the control group essential to the conclusion reached in Dweck’s research about mindset?

Sample Grading Rubric
Criteria Proficient Developing Not Evident Points
Graph Analysis 1 Accurately describes the data shown in the first bar graph and correctly draws conclusions about the data based on the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups Partially draws conclusions about the data based on the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups Inaccurately draws conclusions about the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups __/6
Graph Analysis 2 Accurately describes the data shown in the second bar graph and correctly draws conclusions about the data based on the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups Partially draws conclusions about the data based on the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups Inaccurately draws conclusions about the relationship of the control group to the ability and effort groups __/6
Summary Writes a paragraph accurately emphasizing the importance of the control group; explains the necessity of the control group in Dweck’s research. Partially explains the importance of the control group and its importance to Dweck’s research; may not provide enough support or evidence from the research in response. Inaccurately or incompletely explains the importance of the control group. __/8
Total: __/20

 

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