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Informing Students of their Potential Ability: Experimental Evidence on Motivation, Effort and School Performance
Last registered on May 09, 2018


Trial Information
General Information
Informing Students of their Potential Ability: Experimental Evidence on Motivation, Effort and School Performance
Initial registration date
May 08, 2018
Last updated
May 09, 2018 4:08 PM EDT
Primary Investigator
New York University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
The perceptions of low-income families about the payoff from schooling often leads them to underinvest in education. Many experiments have tried to influence these perceptions by providing information on the returns to schooling or school quality. The few studies that have tried to shape these perceptions by providing information on child ability have focused on current—as opposed to potential—ability, possibly reinforcing previous educational investments based on incorrect beliefs. I will conduct a randomized evaluation of a brief informational
intervention that synthesizes insights from neuroscience about the capacity of individuals to become more intelligent by persisting through difficult situations, pursuing productive strategies, and seeking help whenever necessary. I plan to evaluate this intervention among 12th graders in the province of Salta, Argentina.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Ganimian, Alejandro. 2018. "Informing Students of their Potential Ability: Experimental Evidence on Motivation, Effort and School Performance." AEA RCT Registry. May 09. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2970-1.0.
Former Citation
Ganimian, Alejandro. 2018. "Informing Students of their Potential Ability: Experimental Evidence on Motivation, Effort and School Performance." AEA RCT Registry. May 09. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2970/history/29299.
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Experimental Details
Students assigned to the treatment group will complete a 60-minute exercise in which they will read a brief text and write a short letter. This is the strategy employed in previous evaluations of this intervention to ensure that any differences across experimental groups is not attributable to the fact that they are doing an exercise, but rather to its content.
The text that treatment students will read will be adapted and translated into Spanish from the original text written by Paunesku et al. (2015). The text begins arguing that the brain is like a muscle; the more it is used, the stronger it gets. Then, it explains two concepts that
are key to understand the neuroscience behind this statement (the cerebral cortex and the neuron) and the process by which the brain develops with experience (neural connections). Next, it summarizes supporting evidence from research on animals and children’s brain
growth. Finally, it discusses the implications of this research for the reader. The article features pictures and figures to illustrate key concepts and keep the reader engaged. I plan to incorporate some of the improvements to the text that have been recently evaluated
experimentally by the original developers in the U.S. (Yeager et al. 2016).
After reading the text, students will be asked to write a letter to a friend or relative of their choice to tell them what they learned from the article and how it may help them. This has been a key component of interventions of this kind to encourage students to internalize the main messages from the texts (Aronson 1999; Aronson et al. 2002; Walton 2014).
All letters were hanged on the walls of the classroom around a poster to remind students of the activity for the rest of the school year.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
academic performance in math, language, social science and natural science
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
perceived difficulty of schoolwork, student effort, perceived usefulness of assessments, bullying at school
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The sample for the study includes 202 public secondary schools located in urban and semi-urban areas of Salta, Argentina. Out of all 334 secondary schools in Salta, I excluded a) al 94 private schools (because I was interested in the potential of the intervention to impact public schools); b) all 26 public schools in rural areas (for logistical reasons); and c) 12 public schools in urban and semi-urban areas with fewer than 10 students in grade 12 (to minimize sampling error from small schools).
I randomly assigned the 202 sampled schools to one of two experimental groups, a treatment group that offered the intervention, and a control group that was not offered the intervention.
The data used to analyze the intervention comes from 4 sources: 1) student achievement on the national census-based assessment of math, reading, natural sciences and social sciences; 2) student complementary questionnaires from that same national assessment; 3) a spreadsheet confirming the implementation of the intervention in each classroom (the information from this spreadsheet comes from the pictures of the poster with the letter that the implementers of the intervention took after finishing the intervention); 4) internal efficiency data from the national census conducted in 2015 (to check balance).
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer using Stata
Randomization Unit
Public secondary schools
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
202 public secondary schools
Sample size: planned number of observations
14,000 students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
102 treatment schools and 100 control schools
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB Name
Committe on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects (COUHES) - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Is the intervention completed?
Is data collection complete?
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)