A synergistic mindsets intervention protects adolescents from stress

Authors
David S. Yeager, Christopher J. Bryan, James J. Gross, Jared S. Murray, Danielle Krettek Cobb, Pedro H.F. Santos, Hannah Gravelding, Meghann Johnson, Jeremy P. Jamieson
Publication
Nature
607, 512-520
Abstract

Social-evaluative stressors—experiences in which people feel they could be judged negatively—pose a major threat to adolescent mental health1,2,3 and can cause young people to disengage from stressful pursuits, resulting in missed opportunities to acquire valuable skills. Here we show that replicable benefits for the stress responses of adolescents can be achieved with a short (around 30-min), scalable ‘synergistic mindsets’ intervention. This intervention, which is a self-administered online training module, synergistically targets both growth mindsets4 (the idea that intelligence can be developed) and stress-can-be-enhancing mindsets5 (the idea that one’s physiological stress response can fuel optimal performance). In six double-blind, randomized, controlled experiments that were conducted with secondary and post-secondary students in the United States, the synergistic mindsets intervention improved stress-related cognitions (study 1, n = 2,717; study 2, n = 755), cardiovascular reactivity (study 3, n = 160; study 4, n = 200), daily cortisol levels (study 5, n = 118 students, n = 1,213 observations), psychological well-being (studies 4 and 5), academic success (study 5) and anxiety symptoms during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns (study 6, n = 341). Heterogeneity analyses (studies 3, 5 and 6) and a four-cell experiment (study 4) showed that the benefits of the intervention depended on addressing both mindsets—growth and stress—synergistically. Confidence in these conclusions comes from a conservative, Bayesian machine-learning statistical method for detecting heterogeneous effects6. Thus, our research has identified a treatment for adolescent stress that could, in principle, be scaled nationally at low cost.

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