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There are at least two ways to combat the negative effects of low self-esteem: directly improve people’s self-esteem, or to decouple the link between low self-esteem and negative outcomes (Hayes & Ciarrochi, 2015). Incremental theories are implicit beliefs that people’s attributes are malleable. In this thesis I argue that subscription to these beliefs may help combat the negative effects of low self-esteem. Incremental theories make individuals less likely to make trait attributions as a result of failure and so may prevent low-self-esteem from occurring in response to failure. Incremental theories may also make people less likely to treat negative self-evaluations as truths that permanently define them, thus decoupling the link between low self-esteem and negative outcomes. In study 1, I conducted a systematic review to examine the link between incremental theories and self-concept. I synthesize the results of 34 studies and found that incremental theories and self-esteem were modestly correlated (r = .16; 95% CI [0.11, 0.2]). In study 2 and 3, I examined the extent that perceptions of self-malleability moderated the link between self-esteem and negative outcomes. I surveyed 489 Australian female high school students (age: M = 14.7; SD = 1.5) and a representative sample of 7,884 adult Americans of both genders (age: M = 47.9; SD = 16; 52.5% female) respectively. Moderation analyses in both samples showed that the links between low self-esteem and negative outcomes (lower wellbeing and achievement) were weaker for those with stronger incremental theories. While in those with high self-esteem there was little difference in wellbeing and achievement regardless of the level of incremental theories; in those with low self-esteem strong incremental theories had substantially higher levels of wellbeing and achievement. People are likely to experience fluctuations in self-esteem due to success, failure, and social rejection. Incremental theories may help people respond to low self-esteem in more adaptive ways resulting in improved wellbeing and achievement.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


196 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Health Sciences

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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