Childhood adversity: fixed mindset, academic performance, and internalizing symptoms

Research has shown that two aspects of childhood adversity (threats and deprivation) are associated with two types of problems: low academic performance and internalizing symptoms. In a new study, Lucy Lurie et al. (2022) look at the role of mindset in this.

Two kinds of adversity 

Lurie et al. examined these questions in a sample of 408 children with diverse experiences of adversity. In this study, they both measured the extent to which there were two kinds of adversity:
  1. Threats: Experiences that seriously harm or threaten to harm the child's physical integrity, and includes experiences such as physical and sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, and other forms of exposure to violence. 
  2. Deprivation: A reduction in cognitive and social inputs from the environment appropriate for development, including physical and emotional neglect, lack of cognitive stimulation, and insecure access to food and other necessities. 

Relationships between adversity and mindset 

The researchers found that both threat and deprivation were independently associated with a lower growth mindset. But when simultaneously occurring setbacks were taken into account, only the association between threat and a lower growth mindset (i.e. a fixed mindset) remained significant. A lower growth mindset was associated with poorer academic performance and more symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Finally, there was a significant indirect effect of threat experiences on both lower school performance and greater anxiety symptoms via a lower growth mindset. 


This research suggests that childhood setbacks—particularly threat experiences—can contribute to the emergence of a fixed mindset. This fixed mindset, in turn, appears to contribute to the development of lower school performance and internalizing symptoms. 
These findings may indicate that interventions aimed at fostering a growth mindset may help mitigate the impact of childhood adversity on academic performance and psychopathology.