I found this study published in Nature via prof. Wouter Duyck and while I know some people will get itchy feelings because of it, it’s worth sharing.
First of all, although it’s a twin pair study, it’s not only about heritability, as the researchers also looked at the actual DNA in relation to university enrolment. Let’s jump to the conclusion (pun intended):
…Twin analysis revealed substantial heritability for all university success measures, including university entrance exam achievement (57%), the choice to study at university (51%), the quality of university attended (57%) and achievement at university (46%). In addition to twin analysis, we also found evidence for genetic influence using DNA alone. Indeed, a genome-wide polygenic score (GPS) for adult educational attainment explained up to 5% of variance in the university success variables. Taken together, these results highlight that the appetite and aptitude young adults have for higher education is, in part, genetically influenced.
The crucial words in this conclusion is of course in part. Often people get itchy because genetical and heritability research is often associated with determinism, which it shouldn’t be. Our genetics give us the natural possibilities which will interact with the environment one lives in. And do note: some people will find up to 5% of variance explained underwhelming, but do regard this as an ongoing search to discriminate different factors.
For me more surprising was this result:
Indeed, shared environmental influences account for up to 20% of the variance in the compulsory school years, but make a non-significant contribution to variance in achievement at university.
But (self-)selection might be the explanation:
One explanation for this pattern of results is that in the early school years children’s environments are largely the same across multiple life domains, for example siblings go to the same school, have many of the same friends, and spend much of their time at home under substantial parental influence. By contrast, young adults have more freedom of choice in their education, in terms of the subjects they take, the extracurricular activities they engage in and how they spend their time. This increase in choice leads to greater genetic influence and decreased shared environmental influence across development. We see this same developmental decrease in the influence of the shared environment for other educationally-relevant traits such as intelligence. This suggests that as children gain more freedom to choose their environments, they increasingly select environments that correlate with their genotype.
While this is imho a bit more frightening, there is also a kind of consolation:
An exception to this developmental decrease in shared environmental influence pertains to decisions about whether to continue in education. For example, shared environmental influences account for nearly 40% of the variance in the choice of whether or not to take university entrance exams and the choice of whether or not to pursue a university degree, yet shared environmental influence is not evident for university achievement. It is possible that families and schools influence educational choices to a greater extent than educational achievement.
This is why this kind of research can be so relevant, as it can help distint which influence is working on what. Do note, there are a lot of guesses still around. And even a paradox:
Although we found moderate twin heritability estimates for university achievement, the polygenic score prediction of this trait was small in magnitude, only predicting 0.7% of the variance. Furthermore, even when we split university achievement into two groups: STEM-related subjects and humanities subjects, we did not find any differences in EduYears GPS prediction between subjects. This suggests that even within subject field, the GPS is not discriminative of achievement. In contrast, EduYears GPS explains 9% of the variance in achievement at age 16. There are several possible reasons for this paradox. First, a polygenic score based on years of education might be less discriminative for individuals who have all obtained a university degree. Second, examinations at university level are not standardized, which means that results may be less comparable between universities; a first-class degree at an elite university will be weighted the same as one from a lower-level university.
To conclude, for me the worst sentence is actually in the abstract:
…and highlight the potential for DNA-based predictions of real-world outcomes, which will continue to increase in predictive power.
Why? Imho, this can invite people to think more deterministic, more deterministic science will probably ever allow.
Abstract of the study (open access):
University success, which includes enrolment in and achievement at university, as well as quality of the university, have all been linked to later earnings, health and wellbeing. However, little is known about the causes and correlates of differences in university-level outcomes. Capitalizing on both quantitative and molecular genetic data, we perform the first genetically sensitive investigation of university success with a UK-representative sample of 3,000 genotyped individuals and 3,000 twin pairs. Twin analyses indicate substantial additive genetic influence on university entrance exam achievement (57%), university enrolment (51%), university quality (57%) and university achievement (46%). We find that environmental effects tend to be non-shared, although the shared environment is substantial for university enrolment. Furthermore, using multivariate twin analysis, we show moderate to high genetic correlations between university success variables (0.27–0.76). Analyses using DNA alone also support genetic influence on university success. Indeed, a genome-wide polygenic score, derived from a 2016 genome-wide association study of years of education, predicts up to 5% of the variance in each university success variable. These findings suggest young adults select and modify their educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities and highlight the potential for DNA-based predictions of real-world outcomes, which will continue to increase in predictive power.
With all the craze about meta-analyses, sometimes people forget that a good systematic review can be even more helpful. This new systematic review even including some meta-analysis led by the University of Exeter seems no exception as it want to give guidance on how schools can best support children with ADHD to improve symptoms and maximise their academic outcomes.
From the press release:
The study, led by the University of Exeter and involving researchers at the EPPI-Centre (University College London), undertook a systematic review which analysed all available research into non-medication measures to support children with ADHD in schools. Published in Review of Education, the paper found that interventions which include one-to-one support and a focus on self-regulation improved academic outcomes.
Around five per cent of children have ADHD, meaning most classrooms will include at least one child with the condition. They struggle to sit still, focus their attention and to control impulses much more than ordinary children of the same age. Schools can be a particularly challenging setting for these children, and their difficulty in waiting their turn or staying in their seat impacts peers and teachers. Research shows that medication is effective, but does not work for all children, and is not acceptable to some families.
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) South West Peninsula – or PenCLAHRC. The team found 28 randomised control trials on non-drug measures to support children with ADHD in schools. In a meta-analysis, they analysed the different components of the measures being carried out to assess the evidence for what was most effective.
The studies varied in quality, which limits the confidence the team can have in their results. They found that important aspects of successful interventions for improving the academic outcomes of children are when they focus on self-regulation and are delivered in one-to-one sessions.
Self- regulation is hard for children who are very impulsive and struggle to focus attention. Children need to learn to spot how they are feeling inside, to notice triggers and avoid them if possible, and to stop and think before responding. This is much harder for children with ADHD than most other children, but these are skills that can be taught and learned.
The team also found some promising evidence for daily report cards. Children are set daily targets which are reviewed via a card that the child carries between home and school and between lessons in school. Rewards are given for meeting targets. The number of studies looking at this was lower, and their findings did not always agree. But using a daily report card is relatively cheap and easy to implement. It can encourage home-school collaboration and offers the flexibility to respond to a child’s individual needs
Tamsin Ford, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Children with ADHD are of course all unique. It’s a complex issue and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, our research gives the strongest evidence to date that non-drug interventions in schools can support children to meet their potential in terms of academic and other outcomes. More and better quality research is needed but in the mean-time, schools should try daily report cards and to increase children’s ability to regulate their emotions. These approaches may work best for children with ADHD by one-to-one delivery”
Abstract of the full paper:
Non-pharmacological interventions for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are useful treatments, but it is unclear how effective school-based interventions are for a range of outcomes and which features of interventions are most effective. This paper systematically reviews randomized controlled trial evidence of the effectiveness of interventions for children with ADHD in school settings. Three methods of synthesis were used to explore the effectiveness of interventions, whether certain types of interventions are more effective than others and which components of interventions lead to effective academic outcomes. Twenty-eight studies (n=1,807) were included in the review. Eight types of interventions were evaluated and a range of different ADHD symptoms, difficulties and school outcomes were assessed across studies. Meta-analysis demonstrated beneficial effects for interventions that combine multiple features (median effect size g=0.37, interquartile range 0.32, range 0.09 to 1.13) and suggest some promise for daily report card interventions (median g=0.0.62, IQR=0.25, range 0.13 to 1.62). Meta-regression analyses did not give a consistent message regarding which types of interventions were more effective than others. Finally, qualitative comparative analysis demonstrated that self-regulation and one-to-one intervention delivery were important components of interventions that were effective for academic outcomes. These two components were not sufficient though; when they appeared with personalisation for individual recipients and delivery in the classroom, or when interventions did not aim to improve child relationships, interventions were effective. This review provides updated information about the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions specific to school settings and gives tentative messages about important features of these interventions for academic outcomes.
I posted this joke I came up with myself years ago on my Dutch blog and now tried to translate and update it:
- Answer 1: none, the light bulb has to discover itself how to get into the fitting.
- Answer 2: why use light bulbs when there are candles?
- Answer 3: still using light bulbs? Why don’t you try an iPad? Or the block chain?
- Answer 4: 1 teacher trainer and 15 teacher trainees who will take turns to change the light bulb again and again while the others take notes on 2 strong points and 2 points that need working on.
There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I pick this study:
Marta Pellegrini from the University of Florence and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert E. Slavin from our own Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have released a new report on effective programs in elementary math. The report reviews research on the mathematics achievement outcomes of all programs with at least one study meeting the inclusion criteria of the review. A total of 78 studies were identified that evaluated 61 programs in grades K-5.The studies were very high in quality, with 65 (83%) randomized and 13 (17%) quasi-experimental evaluations. Key findings were as follows:
- Particularly positive outcomes were found for tutoring programs.
- One-to-one and one-to-small group models had equal impacts, as did teachers and paraprofessionals as tutors.
- Technology programs showed modest positive impacts.
- Professional development approaches focused on helping teachers gain in understanding of math content and pedagogy had no impact on student achievement, but more promising outcomes were seen in studies focused on instructional processes, such as cooperative learning.
- Whole-school reform, social-emotional approaches, math curricula, and benchmark assessment programs found few positive effects, although there were one or more effective individual approaches in most categories.The findings suggest that programs emphasizing personalization, engagement, and motivation are most impactful in elementary mathematics instruction, while strategies focused on textbooks, professional development for math knowledge or pedagogy, and other strategies that do not substantially impact students’ daily experiences have little impact.
I have been teaching today and I have to admit that reading this study afterwards and I do recognize it: while the majority of my students are female, I get more questions on average from male students than from female students. And it seems this remains the case later on, even when it’s not about college freshman like I was teaching today.
From the press release:
A new study reveals a stark disparity between male and female participation in a key area of academic life and offers recommendations to ensure all voices are heard.
Women are two and a half times less likely to ask a question in departmental seminars than men, an observational study of 250 events at 35 academic institutions in 10 countries has found.
This disparity exists despite the gender ratio at these seminars being, on average, equal. It also reflects significant differences in self-reported feelings towards speaking up.
The research, led by a then Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, adds to a growing body of evidence showing that women are less visible than men in various scientific domains and helps to explain the “leaky pipeline” of female representation in academic careers.
Women account for 59% of undergraduate degrees but only 47% of PhD graduates and just 21% of senior faculty positions in Europe.
The bias, identified in a paper published today in PLOS ONE, is thought to be particularly significant because departmental seminars are so frequent and because junior academics are more likely to experience them before other kinds of scholarly events. They also feature at an early stage in the career pipeline when people are making major decisions about their futures.
“Our finding that women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men means that junior scholars are encountering fewer visible female role models in their field,” warns lead author, Alecia Carter.
In addition to observational data, Carter and her co-authors drew on survey responses from over 600 academics ranging from postgraduates to faculty members (303 female and 206 male) from 28 different fields of study in 20 countries.
These individuals reported their attendance and question-asking activity in seminars, their perceptions of others’ question-asking behaviour, and their beliefs about why they and others do and do not ask questions.
The survey revealed a general awareness, especially among women, that men ask more questions than women. A high proportion of both male and female respondents reported sometimes not asking a question when they had one. But men and women differed in their ratings of the importance of different reasons for this.
Crucially, women rated ‘internal’ factors such as ‘not feeling clever enough’, ‘couldn’t work up the nerve’, ‘worried that I had misunderstood the content’ and ‘the speaker was too eminent/intimidating’, as being more important than men did.
“But our seminar observation data show that women are not inherently less likely to ask questions when the conditions are favourable”, says Dieter Lukas, who was a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge during the data collection.
The researchers found that women were more likely to speak up, for instance, when more questions were asked. When 15 questions were asked in total, as opposed to the median of 6, there was a 7.6% increase in the proportion of questions asked by women.
But when the first question in a seminar was asked by a man, the proportion of subsequent questions asked by women fell 6%, compared to when the first question was asked by a woman. The researchers suggest that this may be an example of ‘gender stereotype activation’, in which a male-first question sets the tone for the rest of the session, which then dissuades women from participating.
“While calling on people in the order that they raise their hands may seem fair, it may inadvertently result in fewer women asking questions because they might need more time to formulate questions and work up the nerve”, said co-author Alyssa Croft, a psychologist at the University of Arizona.
The researchers were initially surprised to discover that women ask proportionally more questions of male speakers and that men ask proportionally more of female speakers.
“This may be because men are less intimidated by female speakers than women are. It could also be the case that women avoid challenging a female speaker, but may be less concerned for a male speaker”, said co-author Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist at the University of Essex.
Linked to this, the study’s survey data revealed that twice as many men (33%) as women (16%) reported being motivated to ask a question because they felt that they had spotted a mistake.
Women were also more likely to ask questions when the speaker was from their own department, suggesting that familiarity with the speaker may make asking a question less intimidating. The study interprets this as a demonstration of the lower confidence reported by female audience members.
Welcoming the research, Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge, said:
“asking questions at the end of talks is one of the activities that (still) makes me most nervous … Whatever anyone may think when they meet me about how assertive my behaviour is, it would seem that I too have internalised this gender stereotype’.
The most interesting part are the following recommendations:
- Where possible, seminar organisers should avoid placing limits on the time available for questions. Alternatively, moderators should endeavour to keep each question and answer short to allow more questions to be asked.
- Moderators should prioritise a female-first question, be trained to ‘see the whole room’ and maintain as much balance as possible with respect to gender and seniority of question-askers.
- Seminar organisers are encouraged not to neglect inviting internal speakers.
- Organisers should consider providing a small break between the talk and the question period to give attendees more time to formulate a question and try it out on a colleague.
Abstract of the study:
The attrition of women in academic careers is a major concern, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics subjects. One factor that can contribute to the attrition is the lack of visible role models for women in academia. At early career stages, the behaviour of the local community may play a formative role in identifying ingroup role models, shaping women’s impressions of whether or not they can be successful in academia. One common and formative setting to observe role models is the local departmental academic seminar, talk, or presentation. We thus quantified women’s visibility through the question-asking behaviour of academics at seminars using observations and an online survey. From the survey responses of over 600 academics in 20 countries, we found that women reported asking fewer questions after seminars compared to men. This impression was supported by observational data from almost 250 seminars in 10 countries: women audience members asked absolutely and proportionally fewer questions than male audience members. When asked why they did not ask questions when they wanted to, women, more than men, endorsed internal factors (e.g., not working up the nerve). However, our observations suggest that structural factors might also play a role; when a man was the first to ask a question, or there were fewer questions, women asked proportionally fewer questions. Attempts to counteract the latter effect by manipulating the time for questions (in an effort to provoke more questions) in two departments were unsuccessful. We propose alternative recommendations for creating an environment that makes everyone feel more comfortable to ask questions, thus promoting equal visibility for women and members of other less visible groups.
Some skills needed for literacy may be developed in infancy: complex babble linked with better reading
A study published in PLOSOne is again something rather nice to know than showing us something new to do, infants capable of complex babble may grow into stronger readers, except it may help us in a future to identify reading disabilities at an early age.
From the press release:
Infants’ early speech production may predict their later literacy, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Farquharson from Florida State University and colleagues.
Children with difficulties in identifying letters are more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties cannot be uncovered until the child is 3 to 5 years old. The authors of the present study investigated whether assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.
The authors tracked nine infants from English-speaking US families between the ages of 9 and 30 months. They recorded each infant’s babble as the child interacted with their primary caregiver, looking specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, a demonstrated measure of speech complexity. The authors then met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters, a known predictor of later reading impairment.
They found that those children with more complex babble as infants performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test. Though the sample size was relatively small and all 9 children participating in this study all developed normally (meaning the range of variability was restricted), these results may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.
The authors suggest that in the future, the complexity of infant babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.
Farquharson adds: “This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work – we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner.”
Abstract of the study:
Letter identification is an early metric of reading ability that can be reliability tested before a child can decode words. We test the hypothesis that early speech production will be associated with children’s later letter identification. We examined longitudinal growth in early speech production in 9 typically developing children across eight occasions, every 3 months from 9 months to 30 months. At each occasion, participants and their caregivers engaged in a speech sample in a research lab. This speech sample was transcribed for a variety of vocalizations, which were then transformed to calculate consonant-vowel ratio. Consonant-vowel ratio is a measure of phonetic complexity in speech production. At the age of 72 months, children’s letter knowledge was measured. A multilevel model including fixed quadratic age change and a random intercept was estimated using letter identification as a predictor of the growth in early speech production from 9–30 months, measured by the outcome of consonant-vowel ratio. Results revealed that the relation between early speech production and letter identification differed over time. For each additional letter that a child identified, their consonant-vowel ratio at the age of 9 months increased. As such, these results confirmed our hypothesis: more robust early speech production is associated with more accurate letter identification.
Larry Cuban collected a whole bunch of cartoons on child rearing and kids in school.
This morning my colleague Vanessa De Wilde shared her first soon to be published scientific paper with me and I like to share the insights here too as they can be relevant to other people too. The study is soon to be published in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition and was co-authored by Marc Brysbaert and June Eyckmans.
I first want to share with you the abstract as it already summarizes the study clearly:
In this study we examined the level of English proficiency children can obtain through out-of- school exposure in informal contexts prior to English classroom instruction. The second aim was to determine the input types that fuel children’s informal language acquisition. Language learning was investigated in 780 Dutch-speaking children (aged 10-12), who were tested on their English receptive vocabulary knowledge, listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Information about learner characteristics and out-of-school English exposure was gathered using questionnaires. The results show large language gains for a substantial number of children but also considerable individual differences. The most beneficial types of input were gaming, use of social media and speaking. These input types are interactive and multimodal and they involve language production. We also found that the various language tests largely measure the same proficiency component.
But I want to share some of the findings more in depth:
“The mean score for the receptive vocabulary test was 65% (53% when cognates were left out of the test), attesting to the degree of vocabulary that can be acquired when children areexposed repeatedly to a language through activities that do not focus on language learning but on the negotiation of meaning (e.g. while playing a game).”
“English is seen as a high-status language by the participants in our study (733 participants answered they think English is a fun language, only 27 claimed not to like English), which probably means that they enjoy engaging in (digital) interactions in English.”
“…our findings show the high divergence in the scores obtained, a finding that was also present in Lefever (2010). About a quarter of the students did not pick up much English (yet). ”
A considerable part of the differences in test results could be explained by the amount of exposure the children had received (exposure to the language explained 22% of the variability in the children’s overall proficiency scores). Other variables likely to be involved are individual differences in intelligence and language aptitude (Paradis, 2011; Sun, Steinkrauss, Tendeiro & De Bot 2016; Unsworth, Persson, Prins & De Bot, 2014), which unfortunately could not be addressed in the present study.
“…the two most regularly investigated in studies on contextual learning in a formal context did not turn out to be the most important. These are reading L2 books and watching subtitled television programs. Although both variables are positively correlated with L2 knowledge, the correlations are much lower than those of three other variables.”
“The three most important types of input for children’s language proficiency were: use of social media in English, gaming in English, and speaking English. These three types of exposure are the types which offer ample opportunities for social interaction and authentic communication in contrast with watching television, listening to music, and reading, which are far less interactive. Apparently, passive perception of a language is less effective than active use of the language,…”
“…listening to English music seems to have a negative influence on children’s contextual language learning, when the effects of the other variables are partialled out. This is in line with the finding that productive and multimodal types of input are more effective. The fact that the negative effect is significant is probably due to the nature of the input. Listening or even singing along to a song does not necessarily lead to understanding and learning the language. Furthermore, it takes away time from other activities that are more effective. At the same time, even though the variable is significant, it only explains some 1% of the variation.”
It’s something often overlooked but what can be found in many countries: young people are drinking less alcohol. But a news study shows that young people in England aren’t just drinking less alcohol, more of them are never taking up alcohol at all, and that the increase is widespread among young people.
From the press release:
Researchers at University College London analysed data from the annual Health Survey for England and found that the proportion of 16-24 year olds who don’t drink alcohol has increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.
The authors found this trend to be largely due to an increasing number of people who had never been drinkers, from 9% in 2005 to 17% in 2015. There were also significant decreases in the number of young people who drank above recommended limits (from 43% to 28%) or who binge drank (27% to 18%). More young people were also engaging in weekly abstinence (from 35% to 50%)
Dr Linda Ng Fat, corresponding author of the study said: “Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups. That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.”
Dr Ng Fat said: “These trends are to be welcomed from a public-health standpoint. Factors influencing the shift away from drinking should be capitalised on going forward to ensure that healthier drinking behaviours in young people continue to be encouraged.”
Dr Linda Ng Fat added: “The increase in young people who choose not to drink alcohol suggests that this behaviour maybe becoming more acceptable, whereas risky behaviours such as binge drinking may be becoming less normalised.”
Increases in non-drinking however were not found among ethnic minorities, those with poor mental health and smokers suggesting that the risky behaviours of smoking and alcohol continue to cluster.
The researchers examined data on 9,699 people aged 16-24 years collected as part of the Health Survey for England 2005-2015, an annual, cross-sectional, nationally representative survey looking at changes in the health and lifestyles of people across England. The authors analysed the proportion of non-drinkers among social demographic and health sub-groups, along with alcohol units consumed by those that did drink and levels of binge drinking.
The authors caution that the cross-sectional, observational nature of this study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect.
Abstract of the study:
Non-drinking among young people has increased over the past decade in England, yet the underlying factor driving this change is unknown. Traditionally non-drinking has been found to be associated with lower socio-economic status and poorer health. This study explores among which sub-groups non-drinking has increased, and how this correlates with changes in drinking patterns, to identify whether behaviours are becoming more polarised, or reduction is widespread among young people.
Among participants aged 16 to 24 years (N = 9699), within the annual cross-sectional nationally-representative Health Survey for England 2005–2015 datasets, the following analyses were conducted: 1) The proportion of non-drinkers among social-demographic and health sub-groups by year, and tests for linear trends among sub-groups, adjusting for age were calculated. In pooled analyses, an interaction between year and each variable was modelled in sex- and age-adjusted logistic regression models on the odds of being a non-drinker versus drinker 2) At the population level, spearman correlation co-efficients were calculated between the proportion non-drinking and the mean alcohol units consumed and binge drinking on the heaviest drinking day, by year. Ordinary least squares regression analyses were used, modelling the proportion non-drinking as the independent variable, and the mean units/binge drinking as the dependent variable.
Rates of non-drinking increased from 18% (95%CI 16–22%) in 2005 to 29% (25–33%) in 2015 (test for trend; p < 0.001), largely attributable to increases in lifetime abstention. Not drinking in the past week increased from 35% (32–39%) to 50% (45–55%) (p < 0.001). Significant linear increases in non-drinking were found among most sub-groups including healthier sub-groups (non-smokers, those with high physical activity and good mental health), white ethnicity, north and south regions, in full-time education, and employed. No significant increases in non-drinking were found among smokers, ethnic minorities and those with poor mental health. At the population-level, significant negative correlations were found between increases in non-drinking and declines in the mean units consumed (ρ = − 0.85, p < 0.001), and binge drinking (ρ = − 0.87, p < 0.001).
Increases in non-drinking among young people has coincided with a delayed initiation into alcohol consumption, and are to be welcomed. Future research should explore attitudes towards drinking among young people.
Short answer: yes! This is an interesting study but with also an element of frustration. The study ticks many boxes (Randomized controlled trial, big sample,…) and it has clear results. So what’s to complain? Well, the why. How education enhances rationality? But I can live with this frustration as the researchers have found something very relevant – and because there are some theories about that why-question. Oh, and how would this affect boys as the study is only conducted with girls?
From the press release:
There has been interest across behavioral and social sciences – including psychology, economics and education – in whether people are born to be rational decision-makers or if rationality can be enhanced through education.
Published in Science, a new study led by Hyuncheol Bryant Kim, assistant professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, found that education can be leveraged to help enhance an individual’s economic decision-making quality or economic rationality.
“Using a randomized controlled trial of education support and laboratory experiments that mimic real-life examples, we established causal evidence that an education intervention increases not only educational outcomes but also economic rationality in terms of measuring how consistently people make decisions to seek their economic goals,” Kim said.
Kim and his colleagues examined this hypothesis through a controlled trial of education support in Malawi, arranged by a nongovernmental organization, which provided financial support for education in a sample of nearly 3,000 female (2812 to be precise) ninth and 10th graders.
“We found that those who took part in the education intervention had higher scores of economic rationality, suggesting that education is a tool for enhancing an individual’s economic decision-making quality,” Kim said. “While we know that schooling has been shown in previous work to have positive effects on a wide range of outcomes, such as income and health, our work provides evidence of potentially additional benefits coming from improvements in people’s decision-making abilities.”
Traditional economic analysis assumes that humans make rational choices. However, mounting evidence shows that people tend to make systematic errors in judgment and decision-making and that there is a high level of diversity in how rational individuals are.
Kim points out that most other research on improving the quality of decision-making targets the reduction of decision biases. For example, behavioral economists have urged policymakers to intervene in markets and restructure choice environments, the way that a decision is presented, without restraining people’s freedom of choice.
“We take a different stand: proper policy tools can enhance general capabilities of decision making,” Kim said. “Education can better equip people for high-quality decision-making for their lives.”
“Governments must never neglect investments in human capital of their citizens,” he said, noting that Malawi is ranked one of the lowest in the world in human capital – the economic value of citizens. “In addition, this evidence provides an additional rationale for investment in education in resource constrained settings such as Malawi and other developing nations.”
Abstract of the study:
Schooling rewards people with labor market returns and nonpecuniary benefits in other realms of life. However, there is no experimental evidence showing that education interventions improve individual economic rationality. We examine this hypothesis by studying a randomized 1-year financial support program for education in Malawi that reduced absence and dropout rates and increased scores on a qualification exam of female secondary school students. We measure economic rationality 4 years after the intervention by using lab-in-the-field experiments to create scores of consistency with utility maximization that are derived from revealed preference theory. We find that students assigned to the intervention had higher scores of rationality. The results remain robust after controlling for changes in cognitive and noncognitive skills. Our results suggest that education enhances the quality of economic decision-making.