Telling ninth graders that people can change can lower the risk of depression, according to a University of Texas study published in Clinical Psychological Science.
Lifelong struggles with depression often start with puberty, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.
The study asked one group of incoming ninth graders to read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change.
The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.
Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.
Nine months later, “rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.” However, students who were told personality is malleable showed no increase in depressive symptoms, even if they’d been bullied.
That jibes with research on the academic benefits of having a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability is malleable. And with the “it gets better” campaign aimed at gay teens facing abuse.