To achieve, we need more than inborn ability—we need the right mindset. David Yeager is a leading expert in grit, performance, and the growth mindset: the belief that we can change, adapt, and make progress. He studies the ways students and adults feel like they belong and are respected; that their work is relevant and purposeful; and that they can overcome setbacks and continue to improve.
David Yeager is an experimental development psychologist in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. In his academic research, he examines the causes of and solutions to adolescent health problems, such as bullying, depression, academic achievement, cheating, trust, or healthy eating. He often focuses on adolescent transitions—the transition to middle school, the transition to high school, or the transition to college—as a place where there is great opportunity (and risk) for young people’s trajectories. Formerly, Yeager was a middle school English teacher and a K-8 PE coach for a school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also coached middle school basketball and ran the after-school book club.
In May 2014, he was the subject of a major New York Times Magazine article (“Who Gets to Graduate?”) by education speaker Paul Tough, in which he was named “one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of education.” He has co-authored work on grit and grit-testing with Angela Duckworth and on growth mindset with Carol Dweck. And he’s been quoted in high-profile articles on academic tenacity by Scott Barry Kaufman. In May, 2013, Dr. Yeager chaired and co-hosted a national summit on mindset interventions at the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy. This event led to the launch and co-chairing of the “Mindset Scholars Network,” an interdisciplinary research network housed at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), where he was a 2014-2015 fellow. There are two flagship projects of the Mindset Scholars Network: the “National Mindset Study,” a test of mindset interventions in a national probability sample of high schools, and the “College Transition Collaborative,” which will test social-belonging interventions with a census of matriculating students at over a dozen colleges. His work has appeared in places like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and beyond.
Yeager holds a PhD and MA from Stanford University, and a BA and MEd from the University of Notre Dame. He is a William T. Grant Foundation scholar, a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a Faculty Research Associate at the UT Population Research Center, and a Faculty Research Fellow at the UT Dana Center. His research has earned awards from the Spencer Foundation, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Society for Research on Child Development, the American Educational Research Association, Division 7 of the American Psychological Association (APA), the APA Science Directorate, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), and the International Society for Research on Aggression. He is a member of the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group and the New Paths to Purpose network at the University of Chicago.
Student Persistence A Social-Psychological Perspective
Why do so many qualified college students in America fail to achieve their professional goals? In this talk, David Yeager goes beyond typical “student success” programs, and instead takes a social-psychological perspective, asking: what does it look and feel like to be worry about whether you belong and have what it takes? He shows experimental results that demonstrate how students’ learning mindsets—their beliefs about their belonging and potential—can increase their college persistence and reduce institutional achievement gaps. And he outlines the moments of “psychological friction” students encounter—from navigating bureaucratic hassles, to critical feedback in first-year classes, to trouble making friends—and explains practical methods for improving these. Ultimately, Yeager leaves audiences with a framework and an initial set of starting ideas for engaging in continuous improvement of the psychological environment that supports student persistence.
Grit & Growth Mindset Why Some Environments Motivate People to Become Excellent
Today, it’s more important than ever to be a “learner”—that is, to be able to teach yourself new skills, using your connections to experts or resources you find online. But most people have grown up in an educational system that valued “knowers”—people who have memorized facts or skills. How can you create an environment that fosters the grit needed to be a learner? How can you shake people out of the old model of education, so that they can adapt their skills and knowledge to the quickly-changing economy?
In this keynote, David Yeager outlines key insights from the new science of motivation and learning. Using evidence from large-scale behavioral experiments, and new findings from hormones and neuroscience, he answers questions like: why do some people choose the easy route, rather than teach themselves the hard things? Why do some people whither in the face of critical feedback, while others take the feedback and get better? Why do some people only learn something if it’s fun, but other people learn it even if it’s tedious? He also focuses on how leaders create environments that support a “learning mindset,” and outlines practical guidance coming from the latest findings in behavioral science.
Motivating Teens—And Helping Them Thrive
How can you get through to teens? Here, Yeager outlines the latest findings from neuroscience, behavior, and hormones, and shows that, contrary to popular stereotypes, teens are much more motivated than we often give them credit for—if you know how to frame things in a way that honors where they’re coming from.
Yeager explains, first, why traditional programs for teens so often fail—that is, why anti-drug, safe sex, safe driving, and anti-bullying programs generally have no benefit for teens, especially in high school. In doing so he outlines the surprising role of pubertal hormones in shaping behavior. Next, he reviews new, “psychologically wise” programs that capture young people’s motivation and cause enduring improvements in important areas. These programs have reduced stress and depression, narrowed achievement gaps, increased high school course pass rates, promoted healthy eating, and more. Yeager argues for practical strategies for helping young people feel that they can gain status, and feel respected, by making positive choices that set them up for a positive future. And he explains how parents, teachers, public health professionals, and businesses can work with, rather than against, teens’ deepest motives, and ultimately help young people thrive.