Understanding the mindset × societal norm effect in 78 societies

Nigel Mantou LOU, Man Wai Liman LI

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Background/Theoretical Framework: Growth mindsets (i.e., beliefs that intelligence can be cultivated via effort and strategies) are an important individual factor for students’ academic motivation and achievement (Yeager et al., 2022). Recent research on mindsets has shifted from understanding its homogenous role on performance to understanding how classroom environments (e.g., teachers’ and peers’ mindsets) explain its heterogeneous effects. Yeager and Dweck (2020) proposed the Mindsets × Context theory, and suggest that the inconsistent effects of individual mindsets can be systematically explained by contextual factors. As such, individuals’ growth mindsets alone may not be sufficient to lead to positive outcomes; instead, their effect may highly depend on the context. Expanding on this Mindsets × Context hypothesis, we argue that the process in which individuals’ mindsets predict performance and well-being is through different contextual mechanisms.

Objectives/Research Questions: Can the macro context of cultural norms (e.g., societal level of mindsets) also help explain the heterogeneity of mindsets? And does this effect apply to understanding students’ well-being? To address these questions, we examined whether and how the role of students’ mindsets in performance (math, science, literacy) and well-being (meaning in life, positive affect, life satisfaction) depends on the societal mindset norms (i.e., Mindsets × Norm effect).

Methods/Data: To examine the hypotheses (Mindsets × Norm effect), we used a large-scale, cross-cultural dataset from PISA (OECD, 2019), which included measurement of academic performance (math, science, and reading) with nationally representative adolescents. PISA also measured students’ mindsets, well-being (i.e., life satisfaction, meaning in life, and positive affect). Accordingly, we analyzed a global dataset with 78 societies (n = 612,004 adolescents) using multilevel analysis. We controlled for the country’s GDP, family income, and gender.

Results: When predicting performance, the mindsets × norm interaction showed a supportive effect of growth-mindset norms. Growth mindsets significantly predicted all performance outcomes, but the positive associations were stronger in societies with growth-(vs. fixed-)mindset norms (see Figure 1 for the effect on math performance). When predicting well-being, the interaction results showed a supportive effect of growth-mindset norms and a thwarting effect of fixed-mindset norms. Growth mindsets positively predicted positive affect and meaning in life in growth-mindset societies, but negatively predicted positive affect and life satisfaction in fixed-mindset societies (See Figure 2 for the effect on meaning in life).

Significance: This research extends the Mindset theory by demonstrating that societal norms of mindsets can help explain where growth mindsets predict outcomes, and that this mindsets × context interaction predict not only academic achievement but also well-being. This study sheds light on the cross-cultural research on mindsets, and by extension, academic motivation, showing that the role of individuals’ mindsets cannot be simply generalized to all cultural environments. A fixed-mindset social environment not only suppresses the performance of students with growth mindsets, but also undermines their well-being. Future research should continue to explore whether and how the effect of personal mindsets (and other motivational factors) on students’ performance and well-being may depend on societal norms. Copyright © 2023 AERA.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Event2023 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: "Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth" - Chicago, United States
Duration: 13 Apr 202316 Apr 2023


Conference2023 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: "Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth"
Abbreviated titleAERA 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


Lou, N. M., & Li, L. M. W. (2023, April). Understanding the mindset × societal norm effect in 78 societies. Paper presented at 2023 Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association: "Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth", Chicago, USA.


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