Behavioral science interventions have the potential to address longstanding policy problems, but their effects are typically heterogeneous across contexts (e.g., teachers, schools, and geographic regions). This contextual heterogeneity is poorly understood, however, which reduces the field's impact and its understanding of mechanisms. Here, we present an efficient way to interrogate heterogeneity and address these gaps in knowledge. This method a) presents scenarios that vividly represent different moderating contexts, b) measures a short-term behavioral outcome (e.g., an academic choice) that is known to relate to typical intervention outcomes (e.g., academic achievement), and c) assesses the causal effect of the moderating context on the link between the psychological variable typically targeted by interventions and this short-term outcome. We illustrated the utility of this approach across four experiments (total n = 3,235) that directly tested contextual moderators of the links between growth mindset, which is the belief that ability can be developed, and students' academic choices. The present results showed that teachers' growth mindset-supportive messages and the structural opportunities they provide moderated the link between students' mindsets and their choices (studies 1 to 3). This pattern was replicated in a nationally representative sample of adolescents and did not vary across demographic subgroups (study 2), nor was this pattern the result of several possible confounds (studies 3 to 4). Discussion centers on how this method of interrogating contextual heterogeneity can be applied to other behavioral science interventions and broaden their impact in other policy domains.
Hecht, C. A., Dweck, C. S., Murphy, M. C., Kroeper, K. M., & Yeager, D. S. (2023). Efficiently exploring the causal role of contextual moderators in behavioral science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(1), e2216315120. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.2216315120
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