Many a nurturing parent has soothed a bullied child with a reminder that social awkwardness will change, that the bullies may one day regret it, and that people slide up and down the social totem pole throughout their lives.
New research makes a case for using that approach to combat adolescent depression, and it relies on the same core idea as research on the “growth mindset.” Growth mindset researchers have found that students’ academic achievement improves when they learn that their mind is capable of change, and that they aren’t born with fixed skill sets they can’t outgrow.
For a study published this month in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers tested an intervention with 600 freshmen in three high schools. Students randomly assigned to the intervention group read a text about how “being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially ‘bad’ people” and an “article about brain plasticity.” They then wrote a narrative to share with future freshmen on how personalities can change. Students in the control group read a passage on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.
A follow-up nine months later showed that rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by 39 percent among the control-group students, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence. But the students who read about the malleability of personality showed no such increase in depressive symptoms, even if they were bullied.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2014 edition of Education Week as Study Uses ‘Growth Mindset’ to Combat Teenage Depression