The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, divided 402 ninth- and 10th-graders from four New York City public schools in Harlem and the Bronx into three groups. One group read an 800-word excerpt from a scientific textbook on the accomplishments of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Michael Faraday (an English scientist who made discoveries about electromagnetism).
Another group learned about the scientists’ personal struggles, such as the fact that Einstein had to flee Nazi Germany to avoid persecution, or Marie Curie had to study in secret because women were discouraged from academic pursuits at the time. The third group learned about the scientists’ intellectual struggles and how they confronted them.
After six weeks, the two groups who learned about how the scientists struggled significantly improved their science grades and increased their motivation to study science. The lowest performing students showed the greatest gains.
Meanwhile, the students who learned only about the scientists’ achievements performed worse. They believed the scientists were innately gifted—unlike themselves.