How to Improve Adolescent Stress Responses: Insights From Integrating Implicit Theories of Personality and Biopsychosocial Models

Psychol Sci. 2016 Aug;27(8):1078-91. doi: 10.1177/0956797616649604. Epub 2016 Jun 20.


This research integrated implicit theories of personality and the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat, hypothesizing that adolescents would be more likely to conclude that they can meet the demands of an evaluative social situation when they were taught that people have the potential to change their socially relevant traits. In Study 1 (N = 60), high school students were assigned to an incremental-theory-of-personality or a control condition and then given a social-stress task. Relative to control participants, incremental-theory participants exhibited improved stress appraisals, more adaptive neuroendocrine and cardiovascular responses, and better performance outcomes. In Study 2 (N = 205), we used a daily-diary intervention to test high school students' stress reactivity outside the laboratory. Threat appraisals (Days 5-9 after intervention) and neuroendocrine responses (Days 8 and 9 after intervention only) were unrelated to the intensity of daily stressors when adolescents received the incremental-theory intervention. Students who received the intervention also had better grades over freshman year than those who did not. These findings offer new avenues for improving theories of adolescent stress and coping.

Keywords: adolescence; biological psychology; biopsychosocial model; implicit theories of personality; open data; preregistered; social-evaluative threat; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology
  • Personality Disorders / psychology*
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychological Theory
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students / psychology