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The relationship between Growth Mindset and stress hormones

The relationship between Growth Mindset and the stress hormone

4 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset
  • Stress management & well-being

Growth mindset is one of the most talked about phrases in education, and something that teachers up and down the country are trying to develop in their students. Research has linked growth mindset to a wide range of positive outcomes, such as improving grades in struggling students and enhancing resilience.

New research has now indicated that having a growth mindset could also help to alleviate stress hormones. This blog takes a closer look at these fascinating new findings…

The link between Growth Mindset and the stress hormone

All students need a little stress in their life, as it can be useful in boosting their motivationand cognitive abilities, hence assisting them in achieving their goals. However, too much stress has a negative impact on student well-being, by upsetting the balance of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body and suppressing the immune system.

A recent study looked to investigate the impact of students’ mindset on their stress levels. The participants comprised of students who were transitioning to high school, as this is typically a time where students see a decline in their grades and experience stress as a consequence. The researchers asked all students to complete daily surveys and examine their stress experiences. They also collected daily saliva samples, which allowed them to measure cortisol levels.

The researchers found that students with a growth mindset generally have lower levels of the stress hormone. They also found that their levels of cortisol are lower the day after they experience an intense academic stressor.

These results were thought to occur because students with a growth mindset are more resilient: they don’t take setbacks to mean that they will never succeed, but instead see them as temporary and as an opportunity to learn. It is also thought that students with a growth mindset are more likely to discuss key issues with their teachers, peers or parents, which helps them to better identify strategies to resolve them.

The study discussed above corresponds with other research which has found a strong link between developing a growth mindset and reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms. Check out our blogs on the link between Growth Mindset and mental health and this interview with an expert on the subject.

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How can teachers develop a Growth Mindset in the classroom?

The above research demonstrates just how important having a growth mindset can be, such that it can protect students from the detrimental effects of stress. But how can teachers develop a growth mindset in their students? Here are some suggestions:

Subtle and stealthy

Recent research has demonstrated that stealthy strategies are by far the most effective way to develop student growth mindset. Strategies that are not obvious stop students from noticing that their teacher is doing an intervention, making them more likely to encourage students to act naturally and not change their behaviours and responses (this is known as the Hawthorne Effect).

Developing resilient learners

Teachers can improve their students’ growth mindset by developing their resilience. One way to achieve this is by giving them strategies on how to fail better, hence changing their perspective on setbacks.

Although setbacks may be disappointing at the time, teachers need to try and encourage their students to see them as an opportunity for learning. They can then ask for feedback, reflect on what they’ve learnt and determine what they would do differently next time.

A Growth Mindset language

By teaching students that their attributes are not fixed and that they can be improved through effort and persistence, teachers should be able to develop a growth mindset language in their classroom. Teachers should be looking to encourage students to use phrases such as “I believe I can get better” and “I’m no good at this… yet”, rather than “I can’t do it”.

A whole-school approach

Growth mindset strategies are more effective when the whole school adopts them and their use is endorsed across subjects. Being able to use growth mindset strategies in all their lessons allows students to practice using them in different applicable contexts and better understand the positive impact they have in each of their different subjects.

Final thought

Helping students develop a growth mindset can enable them to better manage stress and pressure.

Some stress in life is inevitable and teachers wouldn’t want to shield students completely against this; but if students can understand that their abilities can be improved through effort and persistence, they have the best chance of overcoming setbacks. This knowledge can in turn take some of the emotional sting out of traumatic life events.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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