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      Eight-minute self-regulation intervention raises educational attainment at scale in individualist but not collectivist cultures

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          High attrition from educational programs is a major obstacle to social mobility and a persistent source of economic inefficiency. Over two-thirds of students entering a 2-y institution fail to earn a credential in the United States. In online courses, attrition rates are even higher. In two large field experiments, we tested the conditions under which a writing activity that facilitates goal commitment and goal-directed behavior reduces attrition in online courses. The activity raised completion rates by up to 78% for members of individualist cultures and primarily for those who contended with predictable and surmountable obstacles in the form of everyday obligations, but it was ineffective in collectivist cultures and for people contending with other types of obstacles.


          Academic credentials open up a wealth of opportunities. However, many people drop out of educational programs, such as community college and online courses. Prior research found that a brief self-regulation strategy can improve self-discipline and academic outcomes. Could this strategy support learners at large scale? Mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII) involves writing about positive outcomes associated with a goal, the obstacles to achieving it, and concrete if–then plans to overcome them. The strategy was developed in Western countries (United States, Germany) and appeals to individualist tendencies, which may reduce its efficacy in collectivist cultures such as India or China. We tested this hypothesis in two randomized controlled experiments in online courses ( n = 17,963). Learners in individualist cultures were 32% (first experiment) and 15% (second experiment) more likely to complete the course following the MCII intervention than a control activity. In contrast, learners in collectivist cultures were unaffected by MCII. Natural language processing of written responses revealed that MCII was effective when a learner’s primary obstacle was predictable and surmountable, such as everyday work or family obligations but not a practical constraint (e.g., Internet access) or a lack of time. By revealing heterogeneity in MCII’s effectiveness, this research advances theory on self-regulation and illuminates how even highly efficacious interventions may be culturally bounded in their effects.

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          Most cited references 32

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          Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation.

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            Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance.

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              Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement A Meta-analysis of Effects and Processes


                Author and article information

                Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
                Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
                National Academy of Sciences
                25 April 2017
                10 April 2017
                : 114
                : 17
                : 4348-4353
                aDepartment of Communication, Stanford University , Stanford, CA 94305;
                bDepartment of Psychology, Stanford University , Stanford, CA 94305
                Author notes
                1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: kizilcec@ 123456stanford.edu .

                Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved February 27, 2017 (received for review July 19, 2016)

                Author contributions: R.F.K. and G.L.C. designed research; R.F.K. performed research; R.F.K. analyzed data; and R.F.K. and G.L.C. wrote the paper.

                PMC5410783 PMC5410783 5410783 201611898
                Page count
                Pages: 6
                Social Sciences
                Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

                field experiment, motivation, goal pursuit, culture, education


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