To achieve, we need more than inborn ability—we need the motivation to persist when life is hard. David Yeager is a leading expert in the psychology of persistence. He studies growth mindset (the belief that we can change, adapt, progress); the ways students and adults feel like they belong and are respected; how to make work feel like it has a purpose; and how to 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, where he also ran the after-school book club and coached basketball.
Yeager 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. He chaired and co-hosted a national summit on mindset interventions at the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, which 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 fellow. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and more.
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 Faculty Research Associate at the UT Population Research Center, and was formerly a Fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching . 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, the APA Science Directorate, 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 worry about whether you belong and have what it takes? He shows how 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 them. 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. He answers questions like: why do some people choose the easy route, rather than teach themselves the hard things? Why do some people wither 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 people’s motivation to learn, and outlines practical guidance coming from the field of behavioral science.
Motivating Teens—And Helping Them Thrive
How can you get through to teens? Here, David Yeager 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 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.