Implicit theories and youth mental health problems: a random-effects meta-analysis

Clin Psychol Rev. 2015 Feb:35:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.11.001. Epub 2014 Nov 7.


Compared to youths who believe that personal traits are malleable, those who believe that personal traits are fixed experience more academic and self-regulatory distress. Recently, studies have begun to explore relations between beliefs about the malleability of personal traits, or implicit theories, and youth mental health problems. We synthesized this emerging body of research in youths (ages 4-19) across 45 effect sizes from 17 research reports. Studies were included if they assessed youth mental health and implicit theories and did not manipulate implicit theory or affective/behavioral states prior to measuring these variables. Our random-effects meta-analysis using clustered data analysis techniques (i.e., effect sizes nested within samples) revealed that youths holding entity theories-the belief that personal traits are fixed-showed more pronounced mental health problems. This association between entity theories and mental health problems was evident across methodological factors and problem types (internalizing versus externalizing; psychopathology versus general distress). Limitations include the small number of eligible studies, insufficient data to test further demographic moderators, and few longitudinal studies on this topic. Overall, findings support the value of parsing the implicit theory-mental health link in youths. Implicit theories may prove to be promising targets for treatment and prevention of youth mental health problems.

Keywords: Adolescents; Children; Implicit theories; Mental health problems; Youth.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Young Adult