Our Studies

Praise in Fixed and Growth Mindset

Children: In our Fixed Mindset child study, student researchers gather information on 8- to 12-year-old children from the local community. Children participate in challenging puzzle tasks and are given effort-process praise (“You worked hard”) or intelligence-identity praise (“You’re smart”). Previous research has shown that praising children for their effort (“You worked hard”) is more effective in the long-term, promoting a “growth mindset” over a “fixed mindset”. Children with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their skills and ability whereas children with a fixed mindset believe that people are limited by the intelligence/ability they are born with, and can’t improve. Children with a growth mindset are more willing to take on challenges, cope better with setbacks, and generally perform better. Rachael Reavis, PhD and leader of the Peer Lab, was interested in examining the effect of what we refer to as effort-identity praise (“You’re a hard worker”). Children complete questions about their performance on the task and their willingness to do similar tasks in the future. We hypothesize that children who receive effort-identity praise (“You’re a hard worker”) will respond better to setbacks and be more likely to have a growth mindset than their peers who receive intelligence-identity and/or effort-process praise.

Adults: We are conducting a similar study with college-age adults enrolled at Earlham as well as with a wider range of adults recruited online.

Birth to Five

Birth to Five is a local agency that serves Richmond children, ages birth to five, and their families. One of their programs is Parents as Teachers, a national program that promotes kindergarten readiness, including literacy skills as well as social and emotional skills. The Peer Lab is partnering with Birth to Five to assess the success of this program for Richmond children.

Student researchers conduct interviews with kindergartners from the local community (including those who have and have not participated in Parents as Teachers) regarding their school readiness. Parents and teachers also complete surveys. Children’s literacy skills, vocabulary, social problem-solving skills, classroom behaviors, and general social skills are measured.

Additionally, while children are in the Parents as Teachers program, we track how much parents are reading to their children. Children who are read to regularly have more skills and are more successful than children who are read to less frequently. We will be comparing national and state rates of reading to young children to the Parents as Teachers participants.

These studies will help Birth to Five improve their programs and better serve the children of Wayne County.


In collaboration with our colleagues from the University of Mississippi, we are collecting data that will help us learn about children’s understanding of disgust. Adults tend to have reactions of disgust to both physical disgust and moral disgust. Physical disgust might be felt upon tasting spoiled milk or touching squishy worms. Moral disgust might be felt upon learning that someone stole medicine from someone too poor to buy more medication. We are interested in understanding at what age children start to identify situations as morally disgusting.

The Living Lab

This year, we launched a Living Lab exhibit at the Joseph Moore Museum, on Earlham’s campus. The Living Lab model connects the public more directly to the research process. Visitors to the museum are invited to participate in our ongoing studies. Currently, we are conducting studies about fixed mindset and praise (see above, for children ages 8- to 12-years-old) and about understanding of disgust (see above, for children ages 2- to 5-years-old).

Our exhibit, designed by Earlham students, teaches visitors about the scientific method, the purpose of the living lab, and about disgust. The disgust exhibit teaches visitors about some purposes of disgust (to keep us safe from things that could harm us), the difference between physical and moral disgust, and our body’s response when we feel disgust. Visitors then get to smell a variety of smells, some of which are nice and some of which are, well, disgusting! There is a mirror so that visitors can look at their facial expression when they find the gross smells!

Friendship, Bullying, and Pain Tolerance

In collaboration with Earlham professor Beth Mechlin, we are examining how experiences of friendship and bullying affect college students’ pain tolerance. Support from friends is associated with better health and coping, whereas negative peer experiences like exclusion and bullying can contribute to poor health and cardiovascular disease. We are testing whether these effects extend to pain tolerance.