The far-reaching effects of believing people can change: implicit theories of personality shape stress, health, and achievement during adolescence

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014 Jun;106(6):867-84. doi: 10.1037/a0036335.


The belief that personality is fixed (an entity theory of personality) can give rise to negative reactions to social adversities. Three studies showed that when social adversity is common-at the transition to high school--an entity theory can affect overall stress, health, and achievement. Study 1 showed that an entity theory of personality, measured during the 1st month of 9th grade, predicted more negative immediate reactions to social adversity and, at the end of the year, greater stress, poorer health, and lower grades in school. Studies 2 and 3, both experiments, tested a brief intervention that taught a malleable (incremental) theory of personality--the belief that people can change. The incremental theory group showed less negative reactions to an immediate experience of social adversity and, 8 months later, reported lower overall stress and physical illness. They also achieved better academic performance over the year. Discussion centers on the power of targeted psychological interventions to effect far-reaching and long-term change by shifting interpretations of recurring adversities during developmental transitions.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires