Growth mindset and academic achievement in Chinese adolescents: A moderated mediation model of reasoning ability and self-affirmation

  • Daoyang Wang
  • Fangqi YuanEmail author
  • Yanpei WangEmail author


Although growth mindset (i.e., the belief that intelligence can be developed) has been shown to play an important role in academic achievement, little is known about the underlying mediating and/or moderating mechanisms in adolescents. The current study investigated (a) the mediating role of reasoning ability in the relationship between growth mindset and academic achievement, and (b) the moderating role of self-affirmation in the direct and indirect relationships between growth mindset and academic achievement. Participants were 1828 Chinese adolescents (age, M = 16.88; 59.4% male). Participants filled out questionnaires regarding growth mindset, academic achievement, reasoning ability, and self-affirmation. After controlling for age, sex, annual family income, hukou (household registered), and parent’s educational level, we found that growth mindset was significantly positively associated with academic achievement. Mediation analysis revealed that reasoning ability partially mediated this relationship. Growth mindset (incremental theories of intelligence) significantly predicted academic achievement in adolescents with high self-affirmation, but not in those with low self-affirmation. Moderated mediation analysis further indicated that the direct and indirect relationships between growth mindset and academic achievement were moderated by self-affirmation. The indirect effect of growth mindset on academic achievement via reasoning ability was stronger for adolescents with high self-affirmation than in those with low self-affirmation.


Growth mindset Self-affirmation Academic achievement Reasoning ability Adolescents 



This study was funded by the National Social Science Fund of China (grant number 19BSH123).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Written consent was obtained from each participant after a full explanation of the study procedure.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there are no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  1. Adhitya, Y. & Prabawanto, S. (2018). Identification errors of fixed mindset study on solving mathematical deductive reasoning problem. Proceedings of INTCESS2018- 5th International Conference on Education and Social Sciences 5-7 February 2018- Istanbul, Turkey.Google Scholar
  2. Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effects of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(2), 125. Scholar
  3. Beaujean, A. A., Firmin, M. W., Attai, S., Johnson, C. B., Firmin, R. L., & Mena, K. E. (2011). Using personality and cognitive ability to predict academic achievement in a young adult sample. Personality & Individual Differences, 51(6), 709–714. Scholar
  4. Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263. Scholar
  5. Brady, S. T., Reeves, S. L., Garcia, J., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Cook, J. E., Taborsky-Barba, S., et al. (2016). The psychology of the affirmed learner: Spontaneous self-affirmation in the face of stress. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 353–373. Scholar
  6. Chung, K. K. H., Liu, H., Mcbride, C., Wong, A. M. Y., & Lo, J. C. M. (2017). How socioeconomic status, executive functioning and verbal interactions contribute to early academic achievement in Chinese children. Educational Psychology, 37, 1–19. Scholar
  7. Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(31), 8664–8668. Scholar
  8. Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65(1), 333–371. Scholar
  9. Dao, S., Liu, H. Y., Zhou, C. M., Yu, C. C., Xun, C. Y., Xu, F., et al. (2015). The roles of school psychological environment in grades4~6 students’ cognitive development: A multilevel analysis of the national representative data. Journal of Psychological Science, 142(3), 267–286. Scholar
  10. Dong, Q., & Lin, C. D. (2011). Standardized tests in children and adolescent mental development in China. Beijing: science press.Google Scholar
  11. Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and math/science achievement. Paper Prepared for the Carnegie-IAS Commission on Mathematics and Science Education. Retrieved 2010-04-08 from
  12. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets and malleable minds: Implications for giftedness and talent. In Malleable minds: Translating insights from psychology and neuroscience to gifted education, Subotnik, R.F., Robinson, A., Callahan, C.M., Gubbins, E.J., Eds.; National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut: Storrs, 7-18.Google Scholar
  13. Edwards, J. R., & Lambert, L. S. (2007). Methods for integrating moderation and mediation: A general analytical framework using moderated path analysis. Psychological Methods, 12(1), 1–22. Scholar
  14. Grant, H., & Dweck, C. S. (2003). Clarifying achievement goals and their impact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 541–553. Scholar
  15. Hall, C. C., Zhao, J., & Shafir, E. (2014). Self-affirmation among the poor: Cognitive and behavioral implications. Psychological Science, 25(2), 619–625. Scholar
  16. Harper, R. (2014). The academic impact of a growth Mindset on fourth grade math achievement. California State University San Marcos: Doctoral dissertation.Google Scholar
  17. Harris, P. R., & Epton, T. (2009). The impact of self-affirmation on health cognition, health behaviour and other health-related responses: A narrative review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3(6), 962–978. Scholar
  18. Harris, P. S., Harris, P. R., & Miles, E. (2017). Self-affirmation improves performance on tasks related to executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 281–285. Scholar
  19. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  20. Howell, A. J. (2017). Self-affirmation theory and the science of well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(1), 293–311. Scholar
  21. Karbach, J., Gottschling, J., Spengler, M., Hegewald, K., & Spinath, F. M. (2013). Parental involvement and general cognitive ability as predictors of domain-specific academic achievement in early adolescence. Learning & Instruction, 23(1), 43–51. Scholar
  22. Lu, Y., & Zhou, H. (2012). Academic achievement and loneliness of migrant children in China: School segregation and segmented assimilation. Comparative Education Review, 57(1), 85–116. Scholar
  23. MacKinnon, D. P. (2008). Introduction to statistical mediation analysis. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
  24. Mora, I. A. (2015). Capturing the best skills to generate and inspire the multigenerational workforce. Journal of Business & Management Studies, 1(1), 1–9.Google Scholar
  25. Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S.. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children\"s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52. Scholar
  26. Murphy, L., & Thomas, L. (2008). Dangers of a fixed mindset: Implications of self-theories research for computer science education. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 40(3), 271–275. Scholar
  27. Myers, C. A., Wang, C., Black, J. M., Bugescu, N., & Hoeft, F. (2016). The matter of motivation: Striatal resting-state connectivity is dissociable between grit and growth mindset. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(10), 1521–1527. Scholar
  28. Ng, B. (2018). The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. Brain Sciences, 8(2), 20. Scholar
  29. Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26(6), 784–793. Scholar
  30. Plaks, J. E., & Stecher, K. (2007). Unexpected improvement, decline, and stasis: A prediction confidence perspective on achievement success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(4), 667–684. Scholar
  31. Rosenberg, M. (1985). Self-concept and psychological well-being in adolescence. In R. L. Leahy (Ed.), The development of the self (pp. 205–246). Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  32. Schroder, H. S., Fisher, M. E., Lin, Y., Lo, S. L., Danovitch, J. H., & Moser, J. S. (2017). Neural evidence for enhanced attention to mistakes among school-aged children with a growth mindset. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 42–50. Scholar
  33. Sherman, D. K., & Hartson, K. A. (2011). Reconciling self-protection with self-improvement: Self-affirmation theory. In M. D. Alicke & C. Sedikides (Eds.), Handbook of self-enhancement and self-protection (pp. 128–151). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  34. Spitzer, B., & Aronson, J. (2015). Minding and mending the gap: Social psychological interventions to reduce educational disparities. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 1–18. Scholar
  35. Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 261-302). Academic Press. Google Scholar
  36. Xu, H., & Xie, Y. (2015). The causal effects of rural-to-urban migration on children’s well-being in China. European Sociological Review, 31(4), 502–519. Scholar
  37. Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. Scholar
  38. Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., et al. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 374–391. Scholar
  39. Yi, H., Zhang, L., Liu, C., Chu, J., Loyalka, P., Maani, M., & Wei, J. (2013). How are secondary vocational schools in China measuring up to government benchmarks? China & World Economy, 21(3), 98–120. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of EducationHangzhou Normal UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.School of Educational ScienceAnhui Normal UniversityWuhuChina
  3. 3.Collaborative Innovation Center of Assessment toward Basic Education QualityBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning and IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain ResearchBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations