The New Science of Wise Psychological Interventions

owlBy Gregory M. Walton (Stanford University)

From the abstract

Citizens complete a survey the day before a major election; a change in the survey items’ grammatical structure increases turnout by 11 percentage points. People answer a single question; their romantic relationships improve over several weeks. At-risk students complete a 1-hour reading-and-writing exercise; their grades rise and their health improves for the next 3 years. Each statement may sound outlandish—more science fiction than science. Yet each represents the results of a recent study in psychological science (respectively, Bryan, Walton, Rogers, & Dweck, 2011; Marigold, Holmes, & Ross, 2007, 2010; Walton & Cohen, 2011). These studies have shown, more than one might have thought, that specific psychological processes contribute to major social problems. These processes act as levers in complex systems that give rise to social problems. Precise interventions that alter them—what I call “wise interventions”—can produce significant benefits and do so over time. What are wise interventions? How do they work? And how can they help solve social problems?

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