How mindset interventions can improve adolescent mental health
How mindset interventions can improve adolescent mental health. A new paper by David Yeager and Carol Dweck raises the idea that adolescents have different perceptions of their personal qualities, and that changing these perceptions can lead to better coping with challenging situations and improved mental health. The paper presents both theory and data that support this idea.
MindsetsThe definition of mindsets in their article refers to beliefs about the nature and functioning of human traits such as intelligence and personality. This use of the word mindset is slightly different from the more general way people sometimes use the word (as in "he has a positive mindset").
In research, fixed mindsets are considered to be the belief that human traits such as intelligence are fixed and cannot be changed, while growth mindsets refer to the belief that these traits can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and help from others.
Mental healthYeager & Dweck discuss in their article how mindset research can provide insight into the causes of psychological complaints and how these can be prevented or treated. Static mindsets have been associated with less resilient responses to obstacles and internalizing and externalizing symptoms, and there are cognitive, affective, and psychophysiological mechanisms underlying these results.
Brief mindset interventions have been shown to improve academic and mental health outcomes, which may lead to cost-effective interventions for adolescent mental health.
Growth Mindset InterventionThe detrimental effects of a fixed mindset on mental health are well known. A growth mindset intervention, which teaches people that behavior can be changed, has been shown to have beneficial effects on mental health. In a study by Miu & Yeager of 598 ninth grade students (14-15 years old), a one-session growth mindset program resulted in a 36% reduction in clinically significant symptoms of depression during the school year.
The effect was stronger for students who previously had a fixed mindset. In a replication study , the growth mindset intervention was found to cause adolescents to respond more resiliently to challenges, offsetting the long-term effects of stressors on mental health.
Research in clinical populationsSchleider and Weisz reviewed the growth mindset program developed by Yeager et al. for clinical populations, and found in a first pilot study that it reduced depressive symptoms by 0.32SD at 9 months follow-up.
Similar findings were observed in an international replication study and a large replication study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the one-time online growth mindset program showed significant effects for anxiety symptoms and COVID-related trauma in addition to depressive symptoms. The effects of the growth mindset program were similar to those of the only other successful one-time intervention for depression, “behavioral activation.”
Combining mindsetsGrowth mindset interventions can encourage individuals to face challenges and avoid stress, but experiencing stress is unavoidable. Adolescents can struggle to engage their growth mindset when they feel overwhelmed by stress. To address this, growth mindset interventions were combined with the message that stress is an adaptive response that can prepare individuals to act more effectively.
This “ synergistic” mindset has been shown to improve stress-related ratings, daily cortisol levels, reports of common anxiety symptoms, and academic success in six studies of adolescents. Future work will explore the combination of mindset beliefs about other personal qualities and affective experiences to address other mental health issues.
CautionResearchers have found that one-time mindset interventions can have modest but meaningful effects on psychological symptoms, especially in vulnerable adolescents. These programs are inexpensive and can reach large populations, but must be carefully tailored and tested for different subgroups.
However, the effects of these interventions are heterogeneous and depend on the opportunities in the environment for adolescents to put the intervention message into practice. Future research will seek to understand and influence these sources of heterogeneity for more sustainable treatment effects.
ConclusionMindset interventions can help improve adolescent mental health. Although the development of effective mental health interventions for adolescents is still in its early stages, it is important given the limitations of conventional therapies.
The authors hope that the further development of scalable, empirically validated treatments can help prevent the increase in mental health problems during adolescence and promote better mental health in society.