Academic achievement and depressive symptoms: Are fixed mindsets distinct from negative attributional style?
Abstract Over the last thirty years, there has been an explosion of research on “mindset” theories of personal attributes such as intelligence (Dweck, 1988). Research shows that individuals who believe that their attributes are fixed (rather than changeable) are more likely to have negative academic outcomes and negative moods. However, it remains unclear if these mindset theories represent a novel construct or if they overlap with the cognitive theories of depression which were theorized a decade earlier. According to the cognitive theories, people who attribute negative life events to stable and global (i.e., unchangeable) causes are more likely to become helpless and develop depression. The purpose of the current study was to test whether the newer mindset theories provide an incremental advance in knowledge or are more likely specific instances of a more general negative attributional style. To this end, we conducted a two time-point prospective study with 130 undergraduates. Contrary to hypotheses, results showed that intelligence mindset was distinct from negative attributional style. However, intelligence mindset did not demonstrate predictive or incremental validity; it did not predict end of semester GPA, dropping a class or depressive symptoms. In contrast, negative attributional style predicted both dropping a class and increases in depressive symptoms. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.