Mindsets and stigmas about mental health and obesity

Babij et al. (2023) looked at how our mindset – our beliefs about the changeability of personal traits – can influence the way we view mental health and the associated stigmas.

Is growth mindset a double-edged sword?

We do not know exactly what influence mindsets have on stigmatization. There are various hypotheses about it. These are reflected in the double-edged sword model. This model posits that a growth mindset, where we believe that traits can be developed, could have both positive and negative effects on how we perceive stigma.

Two possible mechanisms

The double-edged sword model states that someone with a strong growth mindset may be more prejudiced because this person believes that people are responsible for their own situation (blame attribution). At the same time, this mindset can also lead to fewer prejudices because people adhere less to fixed categories or labels for people (social essentialist thinking). Social essentialist thinking is the idea that people inherently and unchangeably belong to certain groups, which can lead to prejudice.

Correlation studies: growth mindset associated with less prejudice

To investigate this, the researchers conducted two correlation studies with a total of 671 participants. The results showed that a stronger growth mindset about mental health was negatively correlated with prejudice. In short: the more people had a growth mindset, the less they had prejudices about mental problems. This effect was largely due to a decrease in social essentialist thinking and, surprisingly, also a decrease in blame attribution.

Experimental studies: mixed picture

In additional studies, participants were randomly assigned to a mental health or obesity research group. In obesity, growth mindsets were found to be related to greater blame attribution, perceived controllability, and prejudice. However, in mental health, growth mindsets were associated with less prejudice.


People with a growth mindset tend to have less prejudice toward mental problems. The double-edged sword hypothesis therefore does not apply to mental problems. A growth mindset is associated with fewer prejudices about mental problems. On the other hand, when it comes to obesity, the growth mindset seems to result in more prejudice, perhaps because it is believed that the person has more control over the situation and therefore could have done something about it.