Background Fixed mindsets (beliefs that personal traits are unchangeable) show consistent associations with internalizing symptoms. However, the mindset-internalizing symptom link has previously been studied in isolation of other maladaptive cognitions that relate to internalizing symptoms. Thus, the unique contributions of mindsets to internalizing symptoms remains unclear. Method We used commonality analysis (CA), which yields unique and shared effects of independent variables on an outcome, to assess unique contributions of emotion and anxiety mindsets to anxiety and depression symptoms, relative to the contributions of hopelessness. Participants in two online studies (Ns=200, 430) self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms, hopelessness, and emotion and anxiety mindsets. Results In Study 1, neither mindset type contributed unique variance to depression or anxiety beyond the contribution of hopelessness. In Study 2, emotion mindsets again explained no unique symptom variance. Anxiety mindsets uniquely contributed 2.0% and 6.5% of depression and anxiety variance, respectively—but far larger proportions of symptom variance (20.0%-60.9%) were contributed by hopelessness alone, variance shared by hopelessness and anxiety mindsets, and variance shared among hopelessness, anxiety mindsets, and emotion mindsets. Limitations The cross-sectional design precludes causal conclusions, and the non-referred adult samples may limit generalizability. Discussion Mindsets contributed little unique variance to internalizing symptoms beyond hopelessness. Interventions teaching growth mindsets have been shown to reduce internalizing problem in past studies. However, these interventions might not necessarily operate by shaping mindsets; rather, they may affect symptom change by shaping closely-linked maladaptive cognitions—like hopelessness—with stronger ties to internalizing distress.
To navigate the social world, humans rely on guiding cognitions to interpret and respond to interactions and experiences. Whether or not these cognitions are accurate, they shape our responses to everyday events, particularly those involving adversity. As such, contemporary models emphasize cognitions’ roles in the onset, maintenance, and course of depression and anxiety (Beck, 2002; Disner et al., 2011; Lewinsohn et al., 2001). Numerous maladaptive cognitions have been implicated in the etiology of depression and anxiety, including negative attributional style (Fresco et al., 2006; Luten et al., 1997), hopelessness (Starr and Davila, 2011; Strohmeier et al., 2016), interpretation biases (Everaert et al., 2018; Stuijfzand et al., 2018), and psychological inflexibility (Kashdan and Rottenberg, 2010). Recently, increased attention has focused on another kind of guiding cognition—implicit theories, or mindsets—with possible relevance to internalizing psychopathology (for a review, see Schleider et al., 2015).