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Dealing With Social Difficulty During Adolescence: The Role of Implicit Theories of Personality



Social difficulty during adolescence contributes to internalizing problems (e.g., depression, stress) and spurs cycles of aggression and retaliation. In this article, I review how implicit theories of personality—beliefs about whether people can change their socially relevant characteristics—cause some adolescents to respond to social difficulty in these ways while others do not. Believing an entity theory of personality—the belief that people cannot change—causes people to blame their own and others’ traits for social difficulty, and predicts more extreme affective, physiological, and behavioral responses (e.g., depression, aggression). Interventions that teach an incremental theory of personality—the belief that people can change—can reduce problematic reactions to social difficulty. I discuss why interventions to alter implicit theories improve adolescents’ responses to conflict, and I propose suggestions for research.
Dealing with Social Difficulty During Adolescence:
The Role of Implicit Theories of Personality
David S. Yeager
University of Texas at Austin
February 1, 2017
Author Note
This paper was supported by the Raikes Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation,
the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development under award number
R01HD084772, and a fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
(CASBS). The content does not necessarily represent the official view of the National Institutes
of Health. I am grateful to Carol Dweck for her feedback on an earlier version, and to James
Gross for suggesting the connections with the emotion-regulation process model. I also
appreciate the contributions of all the students and teachers who participated in this research.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David S. Yeager, 108 E.
Dean Keeton Stop A8000, Austin, TX, 78712-1043. E-mail:
Implicit Theories of Personality
Social difficulty during adolescence contributes to internalizing problems (such as depression or
stress) and also spurs cycles of aggression and retaliation. The present paper reviews how
implicit theories of personality—beliefs about whether people can change their socially-relevant
characteristics—can help explain why some adolescents respond to social difficulty in these
ways while others do not. It is found that an entity theory of personality—the belief that people
cannot change—elicits problematic self- and other-blame for social difficulty, and predicts more
extreme affective, physiological, and behavioral responses, such as depression and aggression.
Interventions that teach an incremental theory of personality—the belief that people have the
potential to change—can reduce problematic reactions to social difficulty. Discussion centers on
mechanisms for implicit theories effects and proposes directions for future research.
Keywords: implicit theories, coping, adolescence, mental representations, social cognitive
development, psychological intervention.
Implicit Theories of Personality
Dealing with Social Difficulty During Adolescence:
The Role of Implicit Theories of Personality
Why do some young people respond to social difficulties such as peer victimization and
exclusion with despair or a thirst for revenge, while others find more productive ways of
coping?1 Prior research has shown that adolescents suffer more when they blame their social
difficulties on their flawed traits (3), and they want to lash out more when they conclude their
peers are fundamentally “bad” people who deserve to suffer (4). These fixed-trait attributions are
problematic in part because of what they portend. Illustrating this, a 9th-grade student once asked
me (and I’m paraphrasing): “If my friends make fun of me or don’t ask me to sit with them at
lunch, does that mean I’ll have no friends for life? That they’ll make fun of me forever?” This is
a stressful thought, and one that might elicit extreme emotion or action.
Our research has identified the mindsets, or implicit theories of personality, that can
underlie such thoughts. Because implicit theories can be altered through intervention (and
perhaps socialization), then they represent one potential method for helping adolescents deal
more effectively with social difficulty.
The present paper first reviews basic processes through which implicit theories shape
responses to social difficulty, taking the process model of emotion regulation (5) as an
organizing framework. Next, it examines intervention studies that demonstrate causality and
practical impact. Third, it discusses promising areas for future research.
Implicit Theories: High School Social Life Viewed from Two Perspectives
Implicit theories are beliefs about the malleability of human characteristics (6). An entity
theory of personality is a theory that people’s socially-relevant traits (e.g. whether they are a
1"For evidence that some adolescents develop internalizing and externalizing symptoms when
they are victimized, see (1, 2)."
Implicit Theories of Personality
mean or nice person, whether they are likable or not) are fixed and unchangeable. An
incremental theory of personality is the theory that people have the potential to change their
socially-relevant traits. The two implicit theories of personality—entity and incremental—can
create different worldviews or “meaning systems” through which people interpret and respond to
peer social conflicts like victimization and exclusion (7).2
Worldview. First, the different implicit theories imply worldviews that shape goal
striving. Those with more of an entity theory tend to endorse the goal of demonstrating social
success or of avoiding demonstrating social ineptitude (i.e., a “performance” approach or
avoidance goal; (9, 10). This is because, if traits are fixed, it is threatening to be “outed” as
lacking in social status or competence. In an incremental theory, however, adolescents tend to
endorse the goal of learning how to develop social competence or relationships (11). Often, this
goal manifests in the motivation to put oneself in socially challenging situations where one can
acquire more friendship skills or repair relationships with others (10, 12).
Next, the entity and incremental theories—and the social goals that emanate from them
(13)— shape reactions to social difficulties like bullying, victimization, and exclusion. This can
be illustrated through an analysis of how implicit theories affect each step in a process model of
coping (5). Depending on people’s implicit theories of personality, people show different
patterns of attention, appraisal, and responses in response to these socially-difficult situations, as
outlined in Table 1 and Figure 1.
2"For this review, I do not differentiate implicit theories about the malleability of one’s own
versus others’ traits. In our experience, the two go hand in hand. When one feels that one’s own
traits are fixed, it leads to the expectation that others will treat one the same way forever. When
one feels that others’ traits are fixed, it can lead to the same conclusion. Although in general the
closer an implicit theory is to the domain of the outcome, the more predictive it will be (8), in
unpublished findings so far we have not yet found different associations for self-theories of
personality versus other-theories. To reflect the state of the evidence so far, I discuss them both
Implicit Theories of Personality
Attention and information-seeking. A person in an incremental theory might ask: what
was the person’s psychology? What were they thinking or feeling that made them act that way?
In an entity theory, by contrast, a person might ask: what kind of person are they, and how do
their traits or labels explain their behavior (14, 15)?
For someone with more of an entity theory, who prioritizes the goal of demonstrating
social competence or status, attention is allocated more toward peers’ status and social rank or
underlying traits (16), as shown in Table 1, row 3. For instance, new research found that high
school adolescents with more of an entity theory more readily sorted the social world in terms of
who was popular or unpopular, rather than in terms of qualities like personal interests (17).
Furthermore, when making judgments about a person who harmed others, participants with an
entity theory expressed a desire to know more about a person’s traits, while an incremental
theory predicted a desire to know more about the background situation in which the event
occurred (15).
Appraisal. Next, implicit theories affect appraisals, at several levels of analysis, as
shown in Table 1, row 4, and in Figure 1. That is, implicit theories shape attributions for cause
and effect, and these can affect judgments of how demanding a stressor seems and whether one
has the resources to deal with it.
Those with more of an entity theory are more likely to view an accidental conflict—such
as a peer bumping into you in the hallway—as having been done on purpose in order to be mean
(i.e., the hostile attributional bias; (18, 19). The same was true for a negative experience where
hostile intent was unclear, such as ostracism during an online game with two peers (i.e.,
Cyberball; (19, 20). Next, an entity theory predicts trait-relevant attributions for both accidental
and obviously-intended conflicts. High school students with more of an entity theory were more
Implicit Theories of Personality
likely to say that a peer who made fun of and embarrassed them was a “bad person” (4), and 5th
grade students were more likely to wonder if an experience of social failure with peers meant
that they are just “not likable” people (10). These kinds of fixed-trait attributions, in turn, create
the perception that the bad things happening to one right now can never change, as shown in row
5 in Table 1.
New research has moved from intent and trait attributions to the kinds of appraisal
processes commonly studied in the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat (21, 22), as
shown in row 6 in Table 1. Physiological responses to a stressor are shaped by whether
individuals feel that they have the resources to cope with the demands facing them (i.e., the ratio
of perceived resources to perceived demand; (21, 22). Individuals are said to experience threat
when they appraise the demand as greater than the resources, and challenge when they appraise
the resources as sufficient to meet the demand.
An entity theory predicts more of a threat appraisal to stressors—that is, it calls into
question whether your fixed traits are up to the task of succeeding socially. In two studies (23),
an incremental theory of personality created less of a threat appraisal and more of a challenge
appraisal, both in response to a laboratory stressor (having to give a speech about what makes
someone popular, to evaluative upperclassmen), and everyday events in high school (reported on
a daily dairy).
Responses. Third, these different appraisals give rise to different responses depending on
one’s implicit theory, again at multiple levels of analysis, as shown in Table 1, rows 7-10.
Physiologically, threat-type appraisals lead to cardiovascular and hormonal responses that
prepare the body for damage and defeat: constricted blood vessels (higher Total Peripheral
Resistance), and secretion of cortisol (activation of the HPA-axis) (21, 22). An incremental
Implicit Theories of Personality
theory, which promotes more challenge-type appraisals, reduced the threat-type physiological
responses during an experience of negative peer evaluation, both in the laboratory and in a field
study (23); (also see (24), for a replication).
Adolescents furthermore report different emotions after peer victimization and exclusion,
depending on their implicit theories. Those with more of an entity theory of personality are more
likely to report self-relevant emotions such as shame, humiliation, and hatred (4). These
emotions differ from more situation-focused emotions such as anger or sadness, because they
stem from the judgment that a person’s core is flawed; in the case of shame, that one’s self is bad
(25), and in the case of hatred, that another person’s core self is bad or evil (26). In one study, an
incremental theory reduced shame and hatred after a scenario of serious bullying, but did not
reduce anger or sadness (4). Thus, an incremental theory does not make one oblivious to the
injustice of being targeted as a victim. Victims are still sad and angry. However, an incremental
theory helps adolescents avoid destructive emotions like shame and hatred (26).
Finally, the different coping processes created by implicit theories of personality
sometimes translate into different overall levels of internalizing or externalizing responses, as
shown in Table 1 rows 7-10 and at the bottom of Figure 1. In a meta-analysis, an entity theory of
personality predicted both depression and aggression in adolescence (27). In our studies, we gave
adolescents hypothetical scenarios of bullying or victimization, or we put them in experimental
situations in which they faced peer exclusion (i.e. Cyberball; (20)). In response to either kind of
situation, adolescents with more of an entity theory displayed a greater desire to retaliate and get
revenge—keeping the cycle of high school aggression going (4). Furthermore, those with an
entity theory expected that getting revenge would make them feel better. Learning an
Implicit Theories of Personality
incremental theory, by contrast, reduced both the desire for aggression and the expectation that
revenge would make one feel better (4).
Changing Implicit Theories Through Psychological Intervention
Implicit theories of personality appear to be somewhat stable individual differences when
they are left untouched. Research is showing, however, that it is possible to redirect adolescents
toward more of an incremental theory, sometimes through relatively short interventions. When
this happens, adolescents can show better coping.
What do the interventions teach? Incremental theory of personality interventions teach
that people have the potential to change their socially-relevant characteristics, no matter their
age, under the right conditions, and with the right support. The interventions contain three
First, incremental theory interventions teach that people don’t do things because of their
labels (e.g. “bully” or “jerk”), but because of thoughts and feelings they have—thoughts and
feelings that live in the brain. Second, the brain’s thoughts and feelings can change when the
brain learns new ways of viewing and dealing with the social world. Third, the interventions
teach that this potential for change means that people are not stuck being one way—that people
who are mean, who bully, or who exclude you are not just “bad people” forever, but, with the
right support, have the potential to see how what they are doing is harmful, and then change.
This can provide a basis for hope.
In the interventions, these messages are wrapped in now-standard tactics for “wise
interventions”—that is, for methods to produce internalization of novel world views (28). The
intervention uses scientific authority (by summarizing real neuroscientific findings), it aligns the
message with descriptive social norms (29); (by presenting statistical information and narrative
Implicit Theories of Personality
summaries of older students who endorse the view that people can change), and it implements
saying-is-believing (30); (by inviting participants to write their own persuasive, comforting letter
to a future, excluded student who might be bullied but who might not yet know that people can
change). Hence the intervention is not passive—telling adolescents what to think—but is instead
active—asking adolescents to draw on their personal wisdom and pass it on to others.
The first incremental theory of personality intervention was a six-session classroom
workshop delivered in high school science classes at a low-income school (31). It was compared
to two control groups: a six-session intervention that taught social-emotional coping skills (but
no incremental theory), and a no-treatment control group. A month after the intervention, those
who received the incremental theory classroom workshops showed less behavioral retaliation
toward a peer who excluded them (via Cyberball). Three and a half months later, incremental
theory participants were nominated by their teachers (who were blind to condition) as showing
reduced conduct problems (31). The standard social-emotional coping skills intervention, by
contrast, showed no benefits in social behavior compared to the no-treatment control (32).
Critical for our theory, the long-term effects were greatest among those who had the most social
difficulty. That is, students’ conduct problems were reduced the most in response to the
treatment when they reported that they had been chronically victimized by peers (31).
Subsequent incremental theory interventions have been more compact, involving a 30 to
45-minute self-administered reading and writing exercise delivered either on paper or via the
Internet. In a series of double-blind randomized field experiments in high schools, adolescents
who received the incremental theory intervention have coped with the social difficulties of the
transition to high school more productively. Adolescents receiving the incremental theory of
personality intervention reported less overall stress and earned higher grades over the socially-
Implicit Theories of Personality
difficult freshman year of high school (23, 33). In another study, entering 9th graders given the
incremental theory intervention showed 40% fewer depressive symptoms 8-9 months post-
treatment, an effect that was especially prominent for those who started the year with an entity
theory of personality (34, 35). This effect on internalizing symptoms did not generalize to one
sample of entering college students at a 1-month follow-up (34), while the effect on
physiological reactivity that is antecedent to internalizing symptoms generalized to clinically-
referred adolescents (24). These initial results are encouraging enough to continue replications,
but the intervention is not ready for full-scale implementation.
Future Directions
There are several exciting areas for future research. In general, these will build out the
unknown areas in the process model in Figure 1.
First, can incremental theories of personality reduce actual bullying itself—and not only
responses to victimization and exclusion? Perhaps those with an entity theory—believing that
any instance of social failure would put them in the “loser” category forever—maintain a keen
vigilance to threats to status, and then strategically and preemptively attack others’ status to
preserve their own. If true, then an incremental theory intervention might dampen adolescents’
urges to harm others’ reputations by bullying them.
Second, and relatedly, we know very little about the behavioral and environmental
mediators of incremental theory of personality treatments. Do treated youth start making more
friends, and do these stronger peer relationships sustain the treatment effects, as suggested in
Figure 1 (also cf. 36)? Or are the relevant mediators solely internal to a young person’s
psychology? Multi-school replications of implicit theories interventions that assessed personal
and situational moderators could address these and other possibilities outlined in Figure 1.
Implicit Theories of Personality
Third, how can adults socialize young people into an incremental theory of personality?
In the intelligence domain, telling children that they were “smart at that” communicated an entity
theory of intelligence (37). Comfort such as “it’s okay, not everybody can be good at math,”
encouraged hopelessness (38). Perhaps in the personality domain, parents may, in a moment of
crisis, use phrases that invite fixed explanations for differences among people (39, 40), such as
“don’t worry, they’re just bullies,” or “you’re a good person, they’re not.” This language may
not provide relief if it promotes fixed-trait thinking. Indeed, one study (41) found that a common
message for LGBTQ youth who were bullied—the “it gets better” social media campaign—was
that life gets better because you can escape your hometown and move to San Francisco or New
York, which are cities with more tolerant views of the LGBTQ community. This message
increased despair for LGBTQ youth by implying that bullies can never change. It was only when
youth were told that “it gets better” because society’s views can change over time, and your peer
tormenters might become enlightened one day, that LGBTQ youth felt comforted (41).
Implicit theories research, applied to the social lives of adolescents, has been fruitful in
uncovering explanations for differences in how adolescents deal with peer victimization and
exclusion and for informing initially-promising interventions. The next phase of research will
investigate additional mechanisms, antecedents, and effects at scale across social contexts. Our
measures will also hopefully be improved. After this research, incremental theory of personality
interventions may eventually emerge as a useful tactic for ameliorating a portion of the
internalizing and externalizing consequences of adolescent social difficulty.
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Table 1. The Experience of Being Subjected to High School Social Conflict from Two
Worldviews: Entity and Incremental Theories of Personality.
Entity Theory of Personality
Incremental Theory of Personality
People can’t change.
People can change.
Demonstrate social competence (or
avoid social catastrophe).
Develop social relationships.
Status and social rank;
Trait-revealing information.
Personal interests and values;
Psychological and situational
Perpetrator was “mean on purpose”
due to fixed traits of the self (“I’m
not likable”) and of the perpetrator
(“he’s a bad person”).
The perpetrator had psychological
reasons, or extenuating circumstances,
for his or her behavior.
Negative events will always stay
this way.
Negative events can improve.
Threat: No amount of resources can
help me overcome a difficult
Challenge: I have or can acquire the
resources to overcome a difficult
Threat: Constriction of blood
vessels, less efficient heart, greater
Challenge: Less constriction of blood
vessels, more efficient heart, less
Shame, humiliation, hatred.
Sadness, anger.
Depression, stress, and
Active problem solving and optimism.
Aggression and desire for revenge.
Confrontation (with intent to change),
reconciliation, or moving on.
Implicit Theories of Personality
Figure 1. A hypothesized recursive process model illustrating how an entity theory of
personality (“belief that people cannot change”) could relate to poorer coping outcomes in
response to peer social conflict during the transition to high school. Model based on Gross
Situation (S):
Social exclusion,
insults, rumors, or
reputational aggression
Attention (At):
and noticing
status threats
Appraisal (Ap):
to fixed traits
(demands > resources)
Response (R):
Aggression or
Belief that
people cannot
A. High School Transition Linear Model
B. High School Transition Developmental Process Model
(S)Popular peers
laugh at
what you wear
(At)Notice that
they are laughing
at you
(Ap)Wonder if
they think you
are a "loser"
hate them
Belief that
people cannot
do not invite
you to a party
Notice that
you were
"left out"
Worry that
you are
"not likable"
Feel anxious
"stressed out"
Belief that
people cannot
People make
fun of you for
being a "loner"
They are "bad people"
who will always
make fun of you
or desire
for revenge
Belief that
people cannot
hierarchy +
drive for status
hierarchy in
high school +
drive for
Wariness in taking
risks to make
Reduced social
... Grundschüler*innen hatten weniger positive Verhaltenserwartungen und verhaltensbezogene Gefühlseinschätzungen sowie eine höhere Selbstwirksamkeitserwartung bei eigenen feindseligen Reaktionen, wenn sie das Kind, welches ein ambigues Verhalten zeigte, als "Feind" betrachteten (Lemerise et al., 2017). Schüler*innen, die das Verhalten ihrer Peers als "feindselig" deuteten, reagierten eher aggressiv, als wenn sie es als "nachvollziehbar" deuteten (Bailey & Ostrov, 2008); Jugendliche, die glauben, dass Menschen sich nicht ändern können, verhalten sich unversöhnlicher ihren Peers gegenüber als Jugendliche, die das Gegenteil annehmen (Yeager, 2017;Yeager & Lee, 2021). Eigenes aggressives Verhalten verstärkt wiederum die negative Wahrnehmung von Peers (Lansu et al., 2013). ...
... Future self-identification indicates the degree to which people have a clear image of their future self and can identify with their future self. We (Yeager, 2017). ...
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Background Short-term mindsets interfere with the consideration of future consequences and therefore predict negative behaviors. We developed a smartphone-based intervention aiming to increase a future-oriented mindset and personal goal attainment by strengthening future self-identification and stimulating episodic future thinking. The aims of the study are 1) to examine users' experiences with the application and their treatment adherence, 2) to examine the effectiveness of the intervention, and 3) to explore which intervention modules generate the strongest changes in key outcomes. Methods First-year university students (N = 166) will be randomly assigned to two conditions: 1) the smartphone-based intervention, or 2) a goal-setting control group. The intervention consists of three week-long modules. Data will be collected at the start of the intervention, at weekly intervals during the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and at 3-month follow-up (and at parallel time points for the control group). We will assess users' experiences, application usage data, primary intervention outcomes (e.g., self-defeating behavior, future orientation, future self-identification), and secondary intervention outcomes (e.g., psychosocial wellbeing, self-efficacy). Discussion The study will provide information about users' experiences with the application, the intervention's general effectiveness, and which intervention modules show most promise. This information will be used to further develop the application and optimize this novel intervention. Trial registration The trial is registered in the Netherlands Trial Register (number: NL9671) on 16 August 2021.
... B. Beck 1987). Es ist daher naheliegend, dass eine inkrementelle Theorie mit einer geringeren psychischen Belastung verbunden sein sollte (Yeager 2017). Diese Befunde zeigten sich auch in einer aktuellen Meta-Analyse von Burnette et al. (2020), in der Inkrementelle Theorien von Jugendlichen negativ mit psychologischen Belastungen (r = -0,19; 17 Studien) und positiv mit aktiven Bewältigungsstrategien (r = 0,19; 8 Studien) zusammenhängen. ...
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Zusammenfassung Implizite Fähigkeitstheorien haben hohe Relevanz für Lernverhalten und Leistung von Schüler*innen. Diese Effekte werden in kognitiven Bedeutungssystemen durch selbstbezogene Kompetenzeinschätzungen vermittelt. Neben Lernverhalten und Leistung rückte als weiteres zentrales Ziel von Schule und Unterricht in den letzten Jahren auch zunehmend schulisches Wohlbefinden in den Fokus. Studien zu Zusammenhängen von Impliziten Theorien und Wohlbefinden sind jedoch rar. Vorhandene Arbeiten betrachteten Wohlbefinden dabei überwiegend als die Abwesenheit von pathologischen Merkmalen, während neuere Ansätze das Vorhandensein von Ressourcen und die Multidimensionalität von Wohlbefinden im Jugendalter betonen. Ein solches Modell ist das EPOCH-Modell welches die Dimensionen Engagement, Perseverance, Optimism, Connectedness und Happiness unterscheidet. Die vorliegende Studie untersucht Zusammenhänge zwischen inkrementellen Impliziten Fähigkeitstheorien, akademischem Selbstkonzept und Wohlbefinden von Schüler*innen. Wohlbefinden wird dabei als kontextspezifisches Konstrukt – adaptiert an den Schulkontext – durch die fünf EPOCH Dimensionen operationalisiert. Die Stichprobe der Fragebogenstudie umfasste 1484 österreichische Schüler*innen (52 % weiblich; M = 12,95; SD = 2,10) aus 87 Klassen. Zur Untersuchung der Zusammenhänge wurde ein latentes Mediationsmodell mit inkrementeller Fähigkeitstheorie als unabhängiger Variable, Selbstkonzept als Mediator und Wohlbefinden als abhängiger Variable spezifiziert. Die Ergebnisse zeigten positive Zusammenhänge von inkrementeller Fähigkeitstheorie mit Selbstkonzept sowie mit allen fünf EPOCH Dimensionen. Die Effekte von inkrementeller Fähigkeitstheorie auf Engagement, Perseverance und Optimism werden durch das Selbstkonzept mediiert. Limitationen dieser Studie sowie Implikationen für Theorie, Praxis und zukünftige Forschung werden diskutiert.
... ITP involves different personality attributes or fields with a focus on exploring how it applies to person perception, impression formation, and judgement as an important individual difference [18,19]. At present, researches mainly focus on personality traits, ability, morality, emotion, negotiation and so on [20,21]. ...
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Background Short-term mindsets are associated with self-defeating behaviors, such as delinquency and alcohol use. In contrast, people who consider the longer-term consequences of their decisions tend to report positive outcomes, like feeling more competent and enhanced goal achievement. We evaluate an intervention, FutureU, that aims to stimulate future-oriented thinking, increase goal achievement, and reduce self-defeating behavior, by strengthening people’s identification with their future self. The intervention will be delivered through a smartphone application (app) or immersive Virtual Reality (VR). We test the effectiveness of FutureU for both delivery methods, examine working mechanisms, and identify potential moderators of intervention effects. Methods In this Randomized Controlled Trial, a total of 240 first-year university students ( n = 80 per condition) will be randomized into one of three conditions: (1) a smartphone condition, (2) a VR condition, and (3) an active control condition. We will assess proximal (i.e., future self-identification) and distal intervention outcomes (e.g., future orientation, self-defeating behaviors, goal achievement), user engagement, and examine usage data and goal content. Assessments will take place at baseline, during the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and at 3- and 6-months follow-up. Discussion This study will provide information on the effectiveness of the intervention and allows for comparisons between delivery methods using novel technologies, a smartphone app versus immersive VR. Knowledge gained through this study can be used for further intervention development as well as theory building. Trial registration This trial is registered on (NCT05578755) on 13 October 2022.
Associations between implicit theories of personality, perceived social competence, and attributions to explain positive and negative outcomes in social tasks were examined in a study of 103 fifth‐ and sixth‐grade girls and boys. Consistent with the basic model formulated by Dweck and Leggett (1988), it was hypothesized that having an entity, rather than an incremental, perspective would vary as a function of the degree to which children had a positive view of their social competence. The results showed that an entity theory of personality was associated with emphasis on the importance of personal characteristics and task difficulty following social failure, whereas an incremental theory was associated with emphasis on the importance of task ease following social success. High scores on the positive perceived social competence measure were associated with emphasis on the importance of personal characteristics, effort and task ease following social success and the importance of personal characteristics, luck and task difficulty following social failure. Preadolescents with an entity theory of personality were less likely to make attributions of personal characteristics and task difficulty to social failure if they had a positive view of their social competence. Preadolescents with an incremental theory of personality were not likely to make these attributions about social failure regardless of whether they viewed their social competencies as positive. These findings indicate that the association between entity and incremental views and social attributions needs to be considered in conjunction with perceptions of the self. They provided support for Deck and Leggett's (1988) model.
The current study aimed to examine how mediated portrayals of popularity relate to adolescents’ well-being. We hypothesized that exposure to malleability messages in entertainment television and magazines related to a higher belief in the malleability of popularity, which was, in turn, believed to relate to a duality of well-being outcomes. On the one hand, such malleability beliefs might be beneficial to adolescents’ self-esteem. On the other hand, adolescents presumably experience increased feelings of pressure to be popular. The results of a survey study among 881 adolescents (M = 17.08) revealed that adolescents who are frequently exposed to malleability messages about popularity have a firmer belief in the malleability of their own popularity status, which, in its turn, positively relates to self-esteem and popularity pressure. Malleability messages might thus provide adolescents with confidence, but simultaneously induce feelings of pressure because they can, and therefore must, become popular.
Starting high school is hard. One ninth grader recently described seeing her old middle school friends walk by her in the hallway “without a hi or a smile.” “I felt invisible,” she told me. To kids, minor incidents like this can seem like a sign of more bad things to come. As another teen said to me: “It makes me feel like I won't have any friends at my high school reunion.” As a scientist, I want to help kids stay optimistic during tough transitions in life. We've learned that if kids think that you can't change the kind of person you are—a “bully” or a “victim,” a “good” person or a “bad” one—then they believe small difficulties predict the rest of their life.
This volume brings together research on revenge across childhood and adolescence to explore how revenge is a part of normative development, but also arises from maladaptive social environments. The chapters demonstrate the ways in which revenge is intertwined with social, emotional, cognitive, and moral development as well as being informed by interpersonal experiences within familial, educational, community, and cultural social settings. The book summarizes international scholarship on revenge across early childhood to late adolescence from a wide variety of interdisciplinary perspectives to provide a comprehensive overview of the field. The authors address how individual differences in revenge emerge as an adaptation to the challenges faced when growing up in adverse social and societal conditions. They then suggest a range of avenues for effective intervention that take account of the complexity of revenge as a psychological and social phenomenon.
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Regulating affective responses to acute stress has the potential to improve health, performance, and well-being outcomes. Using the biopsychosocial (BPS) model of challenge and threat as an organizing framework, we review how appraisals inform affective responses and highlight research that demonstrates how appraisals can be used as regulatory tools. Arousal reappraisal, specifically, instructs individuals on the adaptive benefits of stress arousal so that arousal is conceptualized as a coping resource. By reframing the meaning of signs of arousal that accompany stress (e.g., racing heart), it is possible to break the link between stressful situations, and malignant physiological responses and experiences of negative affect. Applications of arousal reappraisal for academic contexts and clinical science, and directions for future research are discussed.
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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.
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Significance In the United States, large, persistent gaps exist in the rates at which racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups complete postsecondary education, even when groups are equated on prior preparation. We test a method for preventing some of those gaps by providing individuals with a lay theory about the meaning of commonplace difficulties before college matriculation. Across three experiments, lay theory interventions delivered to over 90% of students increased full-time enrollment rates, improved grade point averages, and reduced the overrepresentation of socially disadvantaged students among the bottom 20% of class rank. The interventions helped disadvantaged students become more socially and academically integrated in college. Broader tests can now be conducted to understand in which settings lay theories can help remedy postsecondary inequality at scale.
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Much of psychology focuses on universal principles of thought and action. Although an extremely productive pursuit, this approach, by describing only the "average person," risks describing no one in particular. This article discusses an alternate approach that complements interests in universal principles with analyses of the unique psychological meaning that individuals find in their experiences and interactions. Rooted in research on social cognition, this approach examines how people's lay theories about the stability or malleability of human attributes alter the meaning they give to basic psychological processes such as self-regulation and social perception. Following a review of research on this lay theories perspective in the field of social psychology, the implications of analyzing psychological meaning for other fields such as developmental, cultural, and personality psychology are discussed.
How do people respond to information that counters a stereotype? Do they approach it or avoid it? Four experiments showed that attention to stereotype-consistent vs. -inconsistent information depends on people's implicit theories about human traits. Those holding an entity theory (the belief that traits are fixed) consistently displayed greater attention to (Experiments 1 and 4) and recognition of (Experiments 2 and 3) consistent information, whereas those holding an incremental (dynamic) theory tended to display greater attention to (Experiment 1) and recognition of (Experiment 3) inconsistent information. This was true whether implicit theories were measured as chronic structures (Experiments 1, 2, and 4) or were experimentally manipulated (Experiment 3). Thus, different a priori assumptions about human traits and behavior lead to processing that supports versus limits stereotype maintenance.
Mindsets are beliefs regarding the malleability of self-attributes. Research suggests they are domain-specific, meaning that individuals can hold a fixed (immutability) mindset about one attribute and a growth (malleability) mindset about another. Although mindset specificity has been investigated for broad attributes such as personality and intelligence, less is known about mental-health mindsets (e.g., beliefs about anxiety) that have greater relevance to clinical science. In two studies, we took a latent variable approach to examine how different mindsets (anxiety, social anxiety, depression, drinking tendencies, emotions, intelligence, and personality mindsets) were related to one another and to psychological symptoms. Results provide evidence for both domain-specificity (e.g., depression mindset predicted depression symptoms) and generality (i.e., the anxiety mindset and the general mindset factor predicted most symptoms). These findings may help refine measurement of mental-health mindsets and suggest that beliefs about anxiety and beliefs about changeability in general are related to clinically relevant variables.
Three studies examined implicit self-theories in relation to shy people's goals, responses, and consequences within social situations. Shy incremental theorists were more likely than shy entity theorists to view social situations as a learning opportunity and to approach social settings (Study 1). Shy incremental theorists were less likely to use strategies aimed at avoiding social interaction (Studies 2 and 3) and suffered fewer negative consequences of their shyness (Study 3). These findings generalized across both hypothetical and actual social situations as well as both self-reports and observer reports and could not be attributed to individual differences in level of shyness. Together, these studies indicate that implicit self-theories of shyness are important for understanding individual differences among shy people and suggest new avenues for implicit self-theories research.
One of the fastest growing areas within psychology is the field of emotion regulation. However, enthusiasm for this topic continues to outstrip conceptual clarity, and there remains considerable uncertainty as to what is even meant by “emotion regulation.” The goal of this review is to examine the current status and future prospects of this rapidly growing field. In the first section, I define emotion and emotion regulation and distinguish both from related constructs. In the second section, I use the process model of emotion regulation to selectively review evidence that different regulation strategies have different consequences. In the third section, I introduce the extended process model of emotion regulation; this model considers emotion regulation to be one type of valuation, and distinguishes three emotion regulation stages (identification, selection, implementation). In the final section, I consider five key growth points for the field of emotion regulation.