Growth Mindsets and Mental Health Part I: “I Can—And Do—Change!” The Power of Growth Mindset Interve

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

By Whitney Becker, CEI Intern

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The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted educators to adapt in countless ways as they navigate teaching online, much changed in-person instruction, and hybrid models of the two. Educators have responded to the call, going above and beyond for the students in their schools. In addition to its disruption to the academic curriculum, the cracks caused by the pandemic have also illuminated an increased need for addressing the mental health of students. Educators have recognized this focus in a myriad of ways through social emotional learning techniques, mindfulness, and more. In this article, we explore another tool: growth mindsets.

How Growth Mindsets Can Help

As students navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, online growth mindset interventions are yet another tool educators can use to produce positive mental health effects. You might be most familiar with this concept as it relates to intelligence. Since Carol Dweck’s ground-breaking work on growth mindsets of intelligence, psychologists have discovered that mindsets extend into other domains such as personality, people, emotion, stress, failure, and many more (Dweck, 1999). Like growth mindsets of intelligence, growth mindsets of emotion teach students that their emotions can—and do—change. Likewise, growth mindsets of people teach students that people can—and do—change. When it comes to mental health, focusing on growth mindsets of emotion and growth mindsets of people can produce powerful results.

What Does a Fixed Mindset Look Like?

Let’s look at an example. One of your students is having a difficult time with the social isolation of the pandemic. They are feeling depressed about not being able to see their friends, participate in the activities they love, and missing out on milestone events that are an integral part of the school year. A student with a fixed mindset of emotions and people would believe these emotions signal that something is wrong with them. Therefore, they may feel they have no control over changing them. They may avoid the problem since they are attributing the negative emotions as wholly them, innate to themselves, rather than something that is changing and changeable with strategies and skills.

What Does a Growth Mindset Look Like?

What would be different if the same student had a growth mindset of emotions and people? The student  would still have a difficult time with the social isolation of the pandemic and may be feeling depressed, but these events and feelings would trigger a signal in their brain that something needs to change. So, they’d use strategies and coping skills to create that change. For example, the student may seek out ways to connect with friends virtually or physically-distanced. They may talk to family members about how they are feeling and ask for advice. They may even pursue ways to participate in the activities they love, but in a safe and modified way. These are called active coping skills and they help individuals use tools and strategies to help them create the change they need to modify their emotions and situation. A person with a growth mindset of emotions and people realizes that how they feel in a single moment isn’t permanent, and that they have some control over how to change the situation. They also recognize it as a process that takes time and doesn’t happen overnight.

Advantages of Growth Mindsets

There are several advantages to using growth mindset interventions in the classroom:

  1. By focusing on the changeable nature of our thoughts and feelings, growth mindset interventions target students’ belief systems. This can result in a shift in students’ belief systems about emotions and people while acknowledging that these shifts happen over time. In other words, students learn that change isn’t a process that happens overnight. Additionally, teaching students that people can change helps shift the belief from innate traits/abilities to ones where students have the power to apply strategies and skills to solve problems.

  2. Growth mindset interventions emphasize leveraging the use of strategies and skills to improve a situation. In addition to learning about how emotions and thoughts can change, students also learn ways to cope with emotions. The reflective nature of the programs require students to think about their current strategies and ways they can bolster those strategies or seek new ones. Some interventions also ask students to give advice to other students or imagine what they would do in certain situations. These exercises are effective because they follow something called the “saying-is-believing” model (Hausman, 2008). In other words, asking students to say how they would feel and give advice helps them to remember and believe it! It is also important to note that this extends beyond students as growth mindset interventions are only effective when school cultures promote growth mindsets.

  3. This shift may last over time. Studies have found the effects of growth mindset interventions can last several months to a year (Calvete et al., 2019; Miu & Yeager, 2015; Schleider & Weiss 2016, 2018, 2019). Currently, research is exploring if these effects could extend beyond a year.

Now that you know more about growth mindsets of emotion and people, what does this look like in a school setting? Part 2 of this article series focuses on the “how” of growth mindset interventions.

References

Calvete, E., Fernández-Gonzalez, L., Orue, I., Echezarraga, A., Royuela-Colomer, E., Cortazar, N., Muga, J., Longa, M., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). The effect of an intervention teaching adolescents that people can change on depressive symptoms, cognitive schemas, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(9), 1533-1546.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Essays in social psychology. Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press.

Hausmann, L. R. M., Levine, J. M., & Tory Higgins, E. (2008). Communication and group perception: Extending the `Saying is believing’ effect. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 11(4), 539-554.

Miu, A. S., & Yeager, D. S. (2015). Preventing symptoms of depression by teaching adolescents that people can change: Effects of a brief incremental theory of personality intervention at 9-month follow-up. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 726–743. .

Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2016). Reducing risk for anxiety and depression in adolescents: Effects of a single-session intervention teaching that personality can change. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 87, 170-181.

Schleider, J., & Weisz, J. (2018). A single‐session growth mindset intervention for adolescent anxiety and depression: 9‐month outcomes of a randomized trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(2), 160-170.

Schleider, J. L., Abel, M. R., & Weisz, J. R. (2019). Do immediate gains predict long-term symptom change? findings from a randomized trial of a single-session intervention for youth anxiety and depression. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 50(5), 868-881.

Schleider, J. L., Burnette, J. L., Widman, L., Hoyt, C., & Prinstein, M. J. (2020). Randomized trial of a single-session growth mind-set intervention for rural adolescents’ internalizing and externalizing problems. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 49(5), 660-672.

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