David Yeager

Psychology professor David Yeager was chosen to be the William T. Grant Scholar to further research the relationship between a student’s positive mind-set and academic performance. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

After receiving a $350,000 research grant, psychology associate professor David Yeager will begin investigating whether students with positive mind-sets about their intelligence tend to perform better in school and actively seek out opportunities to learn.

On Thursday, Yeager was chosen to be a William T. Grant Scholar, allowing him to further research social-psychological interventions among schools and students. Over the next five years, Yeager will study differing mindsets of students throughout various schools and communities to deduce how viewing intelligence as something not finite is beneficial to a student’s academic success.

“We’re interested in how adolescents transition successfully to new school settings,” Yeager said in an email. “Sometimes, the belief is that [students] have developed — about their belonging or about their ability — can get in the way of taking risks and being resilient when school is hard.”

Yeager said the aim of his research is to help students recognize their struggles and improve their academic performance.

“We try to help them see early difficulties as things that can improve, under the right conditions and with the right support,” Yeager said. “When that is done, then adolescents can be more socially integrated at school and ultimately perform better.”

Sociology professor Chandra Muller believes the research has the potential to become a cost-effective way of aiding under-preforming students.

“It’s an intervention where they try to teach people about mind-set, and, if it’s successful, and it seems like it would be, then it’s a low-cost way to help [students] who, otherwise, might be a little bit more disadvantaged in school,” Muller said. 

Muller and fellow sociology professor Robert Crosnoe will mentor Yeager in regards to the sociological aspects of the research, and public affairs professor Uri Treisman will help apply its conclusions to education policy.

“The sociological part that Dr. Muller and I are there to help him with is to think about how the interventions change the way people think might work better for some groups of people than others and might work better in some schools than others, so we’re really trying to bring the social context,” Crosnoe said.

Muller believes the relationship will be beneficial to both her and Yeager.

“He’s a psychologist, and I’m a sociologist, so it’s always interesting to have multi-disciplinary perspectives,” Muller said. “You learn a lot from that.”

Assistant psychology professor David Yeager speaks on the effects of bullying prevention Friday afternoon. Yeager shared the findings of multiple studies that concluded bullying prevention programs have no effect on students in eighth grade and older.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Psychology assistant professor David Yeager said bullying prevention programs in schools have no effect on adolescents during their eighth grade and high school years at a lecture Friday.

According to Yeager, these programs are often mandated by the Texas Legislature in response to adolescent suicides. While the prevention programs are generally effective for elementary and early middle school students, Yeager said the programs do nothing for the adolescent age group. 

Yeager shared findings from multiple studies he has done surrounding bullying prevention in schools. He said he is interested in how to prevent bullying but is more interested in how to prevent its effects. During his presentation, Yeager said bullies no longer target others by physical means, but by exclusion.

“For ninth graders, these are the kids with the best skills that are the best at bullying — kids who know how to insult you in just the right way, make you feel like you’re nothing in just the right way,” Yeager said.

Nursing assistant professor Karen Johnson said she can see Yeager’s research having major policy implications for addressing bullying.

“It’s a reminder that we as a society often forget that adolescence is a very unique and rapid developmental age,” Johnson said. “We can’t lump adolescents with children or with adults and expect that we’ll get similar outcomes from your prevention efforts.”

In one of his studies, Yeager simulated a game of catch on the computer where the teenage participants thought they were playing a game with two other students. After a few times of being passed the ball, the other two students didn’t throw the participant the ball anymore.

Afterward, the excluded participants shared similar thoughts that they were losers, that their lives would always be like what they experienced in the game or that they were ashamed. Researchers conducting the study also educated participants about how both bullies’ and victims’ personalities and actions change over time.

After a few months, the researchers revisited the students to see if they thought the information they had learned during the study had benefitted them.

“I was surprised that the intervention was found to have lasting effects over time, despite the belief of many of the participants that no change had occurred,” nursing graduate student Rebecca Richardson said.

Richardson, who is specializing in psychiatric and mental health, said she hopes to apply Yeager’s findings in her future practice because the long-term resilience the participants have after going through the exercise can possibly prevent conditions such as clinical depression.  

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A new psychology research study led by a UT professor finds students may perform better in school if teachers convey both their own high standards and personal confidence in the students’ ability to succeed.

In particular, African-American students significantly improved their grades upon receiving assurance from teachers that they can meet their high standards.

In the first of three studies, 22 African-American and 22 white seventh grade students were instructed to write an essay about a personal hero. In the feedback the students received on those essays, half included teacher reassurance — sentiments such as “I believe you have the ability to do better” — while the other half only emphasized high standards. Among the two groups of students, those who had received assurance alongside emphasis of high standards were significantly more likely to revise their essays.

Assistant psychology professor David Yeager, the lead researcher on the study, said students perform better when they feel their teachers have faith in them.

“It is important that teachers convey both their high standards and assurance when giving feedback,” Yeager said. “It is a way to give students critical feedback but also let them know that you believe in them without being patronizing.”

Yeager said studies have shown that students begin to trust their teachers less in middle school, and the trend is particularly stark in seventh grade and with African-American students. According to a study Yeager cited, the lack of trust African-American students have in their white teachers can be attributed to two factors: discrimination from teachers and the internalized sense students develop that they are being stereotyped.

“Middle school is a crucial developmental stage and it is when issues of trust start to take over,” Yeager said. “Good teachers already use this system of critique, but not enough teachers use it and it’s hard to make changes.”

Sociology junior Jasmine Torain, historian for the Association of Black Psychologist Student Circle, said she agrees that trust is an issue, although she said she never personally distrusted her teachers.

“My teachers were there reassuring me and also pushing me along a good track,” Torain said. “[But] I definitely do believe that the trust reassurance has always been there for white students and not for black students.”

Another experiment in the study involved low-income high school students and reflected similar results — an improvement in grades correlating with teachers’ expressions of confidence in their students.

Wilson Amadi Jr., a biology senior and vice president of the African Students Association, said he was not surprised by the results of the study.

“Teachers [who] set high standards but also reassure the students that they can meet them play a huge part of their school experience,” Amadi said. “Especially for those that come from single-parent households, who may not get that uplifting message that they can achieve higher.”

Video games are a staple of the modern-day college experience. But what role do they play in college students’ lives and the national gun control discussion?

A Pew Internet Research study conducted last year indicated that some 70 percent of college students in America play video games at least “once in a while.” Find a dorm room or an apartment with a TV in it and you’re bound to find an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 close by, often alongside video games like “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” or “Assassin’s Creed,” titles whose violent content is no surprise and no secret to anyone remotely familiar with the industry.

Video games, especially the violent ones, have become accepted in our society to such an extent that we often forget that they can model real life courses of action. David Yeager, assistant professor in the UT Department of Psychology, says video games can cause an inclination towards violence but cannot empirically be proven to be the root cause of an event like a school shooting.

“Other events have to happen to tip the scales into a shooting,” Yeager says, alluding to the fact that more serious issues like mental disorders are at play when someone turns to homicide. Yeager also adds, “I don’t think it’s fair to say that the violent media caused the shootings,” the bottom line being that people with mental disorders will inherently have a greater propensity for such violent acts, and playing a video game does not push them that much further towards an act they’ve already conceived in their heads.

A Harvard study released in October 2010 corroborates a very simple fact: Previous studies that claimed video games cause violence did not use methods that prove cause and effect; these previous studies were merely observational and didn’t delve deep enough into the issue. Furthermore, closer looks into offending violent youths revealed that they had personality traits like psychosis and aggression which caused them to act so violently — traits that would have existed regardless of the presence of violent video games.

So why, then, is the National Rifle Association pointing its finger at violent video games? The answer is simple: self-interest. The NRA do anything to steer the discussion of gun violence away from guns. Some might say that’s because the organization is dedicated to protecting the rights of the millions of law-abiding gun owners around the U.S., which would have been true a few years ago before newer, more profitable partners popped up on its radar. The NRA has become the most powerful protector of the $12 billion per year gun industry. For example, after intense lobbying in Congress by the NRA back in 2005, the gun industry was granted immunity from liability lawsuits pertaining to gun violence. That same year, the NRA launched a fundraiser that secured millions of dollars from corporate sponsors, the sponsors being large-scale weapons manufacturers and businesses of the same type — businesses that would be hurt from gun control laws.

So the deal works like this: The NRA scratches the back of the gun industry by doing it favors in Congress, and the industry reciprocates with millions of dollars in donations. Then the NRA blames every potential cause of gun violence except the lucrative firearms that bring in massive profits for both parties. So when listening to the debate, don’t buy into the notion that something as socially acceptable and ubiquitous as playing violent video games causes a teenager to barge into a school and start killing people. You’re hearing a debate that is dodging more pertinent issues, such as the mental health of the shooters or the actual guns themselves.

Hays is a journalism freshman from Dripping Springs.