A low-cost, one-time intervention that educates teenagers about the changeable nature of personality traits may prevent an increase in depressive symptoms, the findings showed.

"We were amazed that a brief exposure to the message that people can change - during a key transition, the first few weeks of high school - could prevent increases in symptoms of depression," said lead researcher David Scott Yeager from University of Texas at Austin in the US.

Adolescence is a challenging transitional period marked by puberty and also changes in friendship networks and status hierarchy. Research suggests that many lifelong cases of major depression emerge during this developmental period.

For the study, researchers conducted a longitudinal intervention study with about 600 adolescents. Students were randomly assigned to participate in the treatment intervention or a similar control activity, though they were not aware of the group assessment. A follow-up 9 months later showed that rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.

Students who learned about the malleability of personality, on the other hand, showed no such increase in depressive symptoms, even if they were bullied. The data revealed that the intervention specifically affected depressive symptoms of negative mood, feelings of ineffectiveness and low self-esteem. The study appeared in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

 

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