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A Randomized Controlled Trial of Healthy Minds, an Online Growth Mindset Intervention for High School Students Designed to Reduce Rates of Clinical Depression

This RCT found no statistically significant effect on rates or symptoms of depression six months after study entry.

Grantee: North Carolina State University. The full study report is posted here.

Description of the Intervention: Healthy Minds is an online growth mindset intervention aimed at reducing rates of clinical depression in high school students. The intervention consists of a one-time, 20-minute interactive module delivered through an online, web-based platform. It teaches the concept of growth mindset – i.e., that people can develop their traits and abilities over time and can change. The module uses a mixture of scientific information regarding neuroplasticity of the brain (i.e., the constant potential for thoughts and feelings to change), videos with real-life examples, written examples from adolescents on how they’ve used growth mindset to address challenges (e.g., peer rejection), and story-writing.

Study Design: The study sample comprised 833 U.S. youth aged 14 – 16, who were recruited in fall 2021 via Instagram ads and randomly assigned to (i) a treatment group that received the Healthy Minds program, or (ii) a control group that received an online program of similar length and format focused on sexual health and consent. 53% of sample members were girls and 72% scored in the clinically depressed range on the pre-program survey. The study’s primary, preregistered outcomes were (i) rates of depression and (ii) symptoms of depression, both measured six months after random assignment using the Short Moods and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ, Angold et. al., 1995).

Impact on the Primary Outcomes: At the six-month mark, the study found no statistically significant effect on either rates or symptoms of depression (approximately 68% of both the treatment and control group scored in the clinically depressed range).

Study Quality: Based on careful review, we believe this RCT was mostly well-conducted and produced valid findings. 1

  1. 1

    For example, the study had successful random assignment (as evidenced by highly similar treatment and control groups) and valid analyses that were publicly pre-registered. A study limitation is the moderate-to-high level of sample attrition at the six-month follow-up (35% in the treatment group and 29% in the control group). These rates are within Works Clearinghouse thresholds for acceptable levels of potential bias under optimistic, but not cautious, assumptions.