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The Role of Implicit Theories in Mental Health Symptoms, Emotion Regulation, and Hypothetical Treatment Choices in College Students

Abstract

Beliefs about how much people can change their attributes—implicit theories—influence affective and cognitive responses to performance and subsequent motivation. Those who believe their attributes are fixed view setbacks as threatening and avoid challenging situations. In contrast, those who believe these attributes are malleable embrace challenges as opportunities to grow. Although implicit theories would seem to have important mental health implications, the research linking them with clinical applications is limited. To address this gap, we assessed how implicit theories of anxiety, emotion, intelligence, and personality related to various symptoms of anxiety and depression, emotion-regulation strategies, and hypothetical treatment choices (e.g., medication versus therapy) in two undergraduate samples. Across both samples, individuals who believed their attributes could change reported fewer mental health symptoms, greater use of cognitive reappraisal, and were more likely to choose individual therapy over medication. These findings suggest that implicit theories may play an important role in the nature and treatment of mental health problems.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that similar rates of excluded data from self-report measures have been reported before (Thomas et al. 2013; Yalch et al. 2013; see Meade and Craig 2012 for a thorough discussion). Results were virtually identical when analyses were conducted on the full sample of participants with available data (N = 430).

  2. 2.

    Our IRB stipulates that studies not including clinical screening/interviewing and trained staff to manage emergency situations should omit suicide item(s). We complied with this policy despite the importance of screening for suicidality and identifying those who could benefit from intervention.

  3. 3.

    This finding should be interpreted cautiously, as there was no overall zero-order correlation between TOP and BAI (r = −.02, see Table 8).

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Acknowledgments

The first author is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF Award No. DGE—0802267) and the last author is funded by the National Institutes of Health (Grant HD065879). Any opinion, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these funding agencies.

Conflict of Interest

Hans S. Schroder, Sindes Dawood, Matthew M. Yalch, M. Brent Donnellan, and Jason S. Moser declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained prior to participation and approval was given by the Michigan State University Institutional Review Board.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

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Correspondence to Jason S. Moser.

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Schroder, H.S., Dawood, S., Yalch, M.M. et al. The Role of Implicit Theories in Mental Health Symptoms, Emotion Regulation, and Hypothetical Treatment Choices in College Students. Cogn Ther Res 39, 120–139 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-014-9652-6

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Keywords

  • Implicit theories
  • Mindsets
  • Mental health
  • Emotion regulation
  • Treatment preference