Does promotion of a growth mindset improve the performance of General Chemistry students when compared to traditional advising tips about transitioning into college?

The Growth Mindset in General Chemistry project is part of a collaboration between CIRCLE and the Department of Chemistry, which aims to help first-year Chemistry students navigate the transition into college-level science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses like the General Chemistry course sequence (Chemistry 111 & Chemistry 112).

Study Overview

A large body of psychological research has demonstrated that factors beyond content knowledge and problem-solving ability can influence students’ performance in STEM courses and their retention in STEM fields. For example, students’ views of personal characteristics like intelligence can impact their learning outcomes and attitudes, especially when they encounter challenging materials. Growth mindset interventions capitalize on these findings, encouraging students to view intelligence as a flexible characteristic that can be developed through effort and practice, rather than viewing it as a predetermined, fixed capacity. Such interventions have been shown to improve the performance and retention of college students, particularly among groups under-represented in higher education.

Based on this literature, we hypothesized that a growth mindset intervention would benefit STEM students in particular, given the documented difficulties that STEM fields have in retaining students. Across two years, we tested a growth mindset intervention in General Chemistry, examining whether such materials elicit better performance than traditional advising tips about the transition into college.  During fall semester (Chemistry 111), intervention participants were presented with an article providing neuropsychological evidence for flexible intelligence. The article argues that even among adults, new brain connections can be grown through rigorous practice and effort. Students were asked to reflect on these ideas and explain how they might influence their study techniques for upcoming exams. To evaluate the effectiveness of the growth mindset intervention, we examined the students’ final exam performance in Chemistry 111, as well as their performance in the subsequent STEM courses.


Results showed that across two years of Chemistry 111, under-represented minority students who received the growth mindset intervention earned higher final exam scores than their peers in the control condition. Similar to previous research, we found some evidence that the effects of the growth mindset intervention carried over to subsequent STEM courses. For example, all students who completed the growth mindset intervention in Chemistry 111 earned higher exam averages in the next semester of General Chemistry (Chemistry 112) than students in the control condition, and this benefit was especially pronounced among under-represented minority students. Ongoing analyses are testing for other long-term effects of the intervention (e.g., increased STEM course-taking) and benefits to other groups who are at risk of migrating out of STEM (e.g., women). Based on the positive results of this study, the growth mindset intervention has been adopted into the Chemistry 111 curriculum.


Mike Cahill (CIRCLE)
Megan Daschbach (Chemistry)
Angela Fink (CIRCLE)
Gina Frey (CIRCLE, Chemistry)
Jia Luo (Chemistry)
Mark McDaniel (CIRCLE, Psychological and Brain Sciences)
Gabriela Szteinberg (Chemistry)