The science of “wise interventions”
Our latest research brief provides a summary of the recent paper by Mindset Scholars Greg Walton and Tim Wilson published in Psychological Review. The paper explores the science of “wise interventions” and implications for policy and practice across a broad range of domains. Growth mindset, purpose & relevance, and social belonging interventions such as those developed by Greg, Tim, and other members of the Mindset Scholars Network are examples of wise interventions.
What is a “wise intervention”?
When interventions are labeled “wise,” it doesn’t mean they are smarter or better than other approaches. Rather, these interventions are psychologically “wise”—they are attuned to how people make sense of themselves, others, and social situations; they understand how socio-cultural contexts prompt specific psychological questions; and they use effective techniques to help people answer these questions adaptively.
Wise interventions are effective when they help people answer psychological questions in ways that are relevant and authentic to them and their contexts. For example, students who face negative stereotypes about their social group in school may reasonably worry that critical feedback from a teacher might indicate the teacher does not believe they are as capable as other students. Then, those students may not take up the opportunity to learn from the feedback. For teachers’ feedback to be psychologically “wise,” and therefore maximally useful to students, teachers must convey their feedback in ways that forestall negative interpretations.
Wise interventions target three underlying motives that shape how people make meaning of themselves, others, and their situations: people’s need to understand; their need for self-integrity; and their need for belonging.
Why do wise interventions matter?
Changes in people’s behaviors sparked by wise interventions can affect how other people and systems respond to them. This can set in motion recursive processes that strengthen new ways of being. Like baked clay, new interpretations can harden as the person interacts with her social context over time.
For example, one case study discussed in the research brief describes how a 1-hour, in-person exercise aimed at improving students’ sense of social belonging improved African American students’ grades and health through the end of college, halving the racial achievement gap over three years. A long-term follow-up with the same group of students found that the intervention increased African American participants’ life and career satisfaction 3-5 years after graduation. It did so, analyses suggest, by helping students form more significant and lasting mentor relationships that extended through and after college.
Other research examining wise interventions have found similar patterns, with brief exercises targeting individuals’ beliefs having positive long-term impacts on behavior and outcomes.
To learn more about the research behind wise interventions and how they can improve social outcomes, you can access our research brief here. You can also access a searchable database of the more than 325 wise intervention studies reviewed in the Walton & Wilson paper at www.wiseinterventions.org.