How students view intelligence affects how they respond to stress

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How students view intelligence affects how they respond to stress

Having a growth mindset enables students to be more resilient in the face of challenges and overcome academic stress, according to a psychological study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Rochester.

Researchers Hae Yeon Lee, Jeremy Jamieson, Adriana Miu, Robert Josephs, and David Yeager conducted the study to understand why some students were better equipped to cope with academic stress than others, especially during the transition to high school.

The researchers surveyed 499 students from two public high schools in Texas each day during their first semester of ninth grade. In addition to asking the students about their academic pressures and perceptions of intelligence, the researchers took samples of each student’s saliva to measure the level of cortisol—the stress hormone—in their bodies.

Though 68% of all students saw their grades slip during their first semester of high school, students with a fixed mindset—those who believe intelligence is a fixed trait that cannot be changed—were more likely to have a high stress response. Students with fixed mindsets were also more likely to report feeling “dumb” and were more likely be overwhelmed by stress for an extended period of time.

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Conversely, students with growth mindsets—those who believe intelligence can be developed—were more resilient to stress. They reported feeling better prepared to handle the challenges they faced daily and were less likely to internalize and hold onto stress.

The researchers speculate that students with growth mindsets are more resilient because they’re more likely to respond to a stressful situation by proactively seeking a solution, like talking with a teacher.

“If not addressed, early academic adversity during school transition periods could contribute to lasting educational gaps in school engagement, drop-out rates and college enrollment,” explains Yeager. “More students might thrive if schools carefully selected appropriate challenges, and provided students with growth-oriented belief that, with the right resources, they could continue to develop their abilities to meet reasonable demands” (UT News report, 7/18).