Using Wise Interventions to Motivate Deliberate Practice

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Abstract

Deliberate practice leads to world-class excellence across domains. In the current investigation, we examined whether psychologically “wise” interventions targeting expectancies and values—stock antecedents of ordinary effortful behaviors—could motivate nonexperts to engage in deliberate practice and improve their achievement. As a preliminary, we developed and validated a novel task measure of deliberate practice and confirmed its association with (a) expectancy-value beliefs, and (b) achievement in the nonexpert setting (Study 1). Next, across 4 longitudinal, randomized-controlled, field experiments, we intervened. Among lower-achievers, wise deliberate practice interventions improved math performance for 5th and 6th graders (Study 2), end-of-semester grades for undergraduates (Study 3), and end-of-quarter grades for 6th graders (Study 4); the same pattern of results emerged in end-of-quarter grades for 7th graders (Study 5). Following the intervention, expectancy-value beliefs and deliberate practice improved for 1 month (Study 4), but not 4 (Study 5). Treatment proved beneficial over and above 2 control conditions: 1 that taught standard study skills (Studies 2 and 3), and 1 that discussed deep interests, generalized motivation, and high achievement (Studies 4 and 5). Collectively, these findings provide preliminary support for the heretofore untested hypothesis that deliberate practice submits to the same laws that govern typical forms of effortful behavior, and that wise interventions that tap into these laws can spur short-term gains in adaptive beliefs, deliberate practice, and objectively measured achievement.

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