Believing in Change Can Help Make it Happen
January 10, 2012 1 Comment
The belief that intelligence is malleable can greatly influence a student’s academic success (see here, here, and here). Although the effect of believing that attributes can change (“incremental beliefs”) has rarely been examined outside an educational setting, an intriguing new study pulls incremental beliefs away from the education realm by examining how they affect dieting.
The researchers divided subjects into three groups and looked at how they responded to dieting setbacks. The “incremental intervention” group was presented with knowledge about how body weight was malleable. The “knowledge” group was presented with a wide range of scientific information aimed at promoting weight loss. A third group was used as a control and given no intervention. After 12 weeks the incremental intervention proved to have the strongest effect.
Our longitudinal intervention demonstrated that both the incremental and the knowledge interventions buffer against the natural trend toward weight-gain. Additionally, for participants for whom the intervention successfully inculcated an increase in incremental beliefs, it even reversed this trend; individuals in the incremental condition who adopted more incremental beliefs actually lost weight from T1 to T2. Furthermore, incremental beliefs buffered against setback-related weight-gain: Although setback severity predicted weight-gain for participants in the control and the knowledge intervention conditions, this link was nonsignificant (and negative-trending) for participants in the incremental beliefs condition.
The lesson is that believing something can change is often the first step towards actually changing it. Kobe Bryant and Eddy Curry both entered the NBA as raw, talented athletes, but only one of them emerged as a great player. You can bet that Kobe had (and clearly still has) a more incremental theory of basketball skill than Curry (and based on Curry’s weight problems, a more incremental theory of body weight as well.)
Burnette, J., & Finkel, E. (2012). Buffering against weight gain following dieting setbacks: An implicit theory intervention Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.020