Why do students with similar ability levels get different grades in a class? Although ability is one important factor that influences performance, my research examines the effects of motivational beliefs and attitudes on performance. For example, some students might want to do well in a class because they see connections and relevance for their desired future career. For that reason, they might pay more attention in class and spend more time studying for the tests. Other students might get anxious when they take tests and that nervousness might make it difficult for them to concentrate, which could undermine their performance on tests. These attitudes (e.g., perceiving relevance in what they are learning or being anxious about tests) exert an additional influence on performance above and beyond individuals' skills and talents.
I use laboratory and large-scale field experimental studies, as well as longitudinal designs, to better understand the role of these attitudes in human motivation and performance. A better understanding of how attitudes affect performance can be leveraged to improve performance by creating interventions designed to change those attitudes. My laboratory studies allow me to focus in on how motivation works in a controlled environment. In schools, my observational studies provide a better understanding of motivation and performance by testing how students' attitudes are associated with better or worse performance over time. I also conduct intervention studies in schools that are designed to improve performance by bolstering students' positive attitudes (e.g., viewing what they are learning as relevant, boosting confidence) or reducing negative attitudes (e.g., performance pressure or anxiety). I work with a range of age groups from preschool students through college students in order to create interventions to support students based on their specific developmental needs. I am especially interested in interventions that can help to reduce early forming and persistent achievement gaps (e.g., racial, social class, or gender gaps). Beyond intervening directly with individuals and students, I also study how parents are an untapped resource to support their children's motivation and learning. Additionally, I am interested in understanding the hormonal and neurobiological mechanisms associated with higher and lower levels of motivation and performance.