Growth Mindset in Bangladesh: Evaluation of an Intervention to Increase Learning in Schools (2017-2018)


Belief in one’s own ability to succeed can have a large impact on performance in school. Growth mindset interventions, which aim to increase individuals’ perceived abilities to learn, have been shown to reverse downward grade trajectories among low-performing students in junior high school, reduce stereotype threat for African-American college students and increase overall performance in high school math and English for students across the United States.

There is evidence from the developing world of the importance of self-belief for success in school, suggesting the growth mindset intervention could be an effective tool. However, it has yet to be tested outside the U.S.

Project Description

Growth mindset interventions aim to teach students that intelligence is not fixed, but is something they can increase with the right effort, like the strength of a muscle. These interventions also teach a related concept that failure on any academic measure should not be viewed as a judgement of students’ overall ability but rather an assessment of their previous work and a valuable input for optimizing future study time.

Using a randomized controlled trial design, this Bass Connections project will be the first to test this intervention in a developing country. The project team will aim to increase understanding of how the growth mindset intervention works and of the relationship between beliefs and school performance more broadly.

The literature in psychology has long maintained that changing students’ implicit beliefs about the malleability of intelligence is the key to getting them to react differently to failure and apply more of the right effort in school. By randomly assigning a fraction of students to a placebo treatment that mimics growth mindset but lacks the theory of intelligence component, the team will be able to test this central claim.

One thousand two hundred secondary school students from four schools in Dhaka, Bangladesh, will be enrolled to participate in eight one-hour weekly intervention sessions. Students’ monthly math and English test grades will serve as the team’s performance measure. A survey before the intervention and again three and a half months later will include questions on beliefs about intelligence and personal ability, time spent on school work and social networks, illuminating the mechanisms underlying changes in behavior and whether there has been spillover of information between groups.

Anticipated Outcomes

At least one published paper in an economics field journal; presentations at conferences related to education and human development; policy brief with precise cost effectiveness estimates and design recommendations

Student Opportunities

All team members will have separate but interdependent roles and responsibilities. The undergraduate research assistant will have the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to work one-on-one with the team leader in the field office of a world-renowned NGO and research organization, Innovations for Poverty Action, for up to one month.

We seek to recruit an undergraduate who can commit to approximately 10 hours per week during the academic year and approximately 40 hours per week for up to one month during Summer 2017. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are desired; economics or math majors are especially encouraged, but other disciplines are welcome to apply. Knowledge of the Bengali language and Stata and experience living in a developing country are a plus. This undergraduate research assistant will have the opportunity to participate in every stage of the research process, from further development of the study protocol, developing and piloting the intervention and surveys, to cleaning and analyzing the data and assisting with writing the manuscript for publication. S/he will have the opportunity to learn how to program, or refine previous skills in Stata. The undergraduate assistant will be assigned a grade and course credit for work on the study. The grade will be based on objective criteria such as responsiveness to emails (within 24 hours during Monday through Friday), attendance at meetings, submission of simple assignments as well as subjective criteria such as whether s/he appeared to apply effort to the assigned tasks and whether s/he attempted to make creative, problem solving contributions when needed. Subjective assessments will be given every two weeks so corrections can be made when necessary.

Prospective applicants, please feel free to contact Tom Polley with any questions about this project.


Spring 2017 – Summer 2018

  • Spring 2017: Data collection begins; piloting and development of survey and intervention begins
  • Summer 2017: Piloting and development of survey and intervention concludes; baseline survey and intervention begins
  • Fall 2017: Baseline survey and intervention concludes; endline survey
  • Spring 2018: Supplementary data collection; data analysis; manuscript
  • Summer 2018: Finish manuscript


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Erica Field, Trinity - Economics*

Graduate Team Members

Thomas Polley, Graduate School - PhD in Economics*

Undergraduate Team Members

Mike Gao, Mathematics (BS), Economics (BS2)

Community Team Members

Multiple Contributors, Innovations for Poverty Action, Bangladesh
Md. Kamal Uddin, Psychology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh*

* denotes team leader