Wise Psychological Interventions

Wise Psychological Interventions (WPIs) were the subject of an article titled “A mind trick that can break down your brain’s barrier to success” by Dan Jones in the March 12 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  “Mental unblocking” is at the heart of WPIs.  Entering “Wilson” into the health memory blog search block will take you to many examples of WPIs.  Entering “REDIRECT” into the search block will take you to many more.

Wilson is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and here is an example of one of his WPIs.  His goal was to help new college students cope better with worries about their academic performance.  His solution was inspired by attribution theory, which describes how people accept for events.  For example whether they blame failures and setbacks on enduring facts about themselves, or on external factors.  His goal was to get students think about the external situation, rather than to facts about themselves.  He presented the students with statistics tat showed the majority of new students start with disappointing grades but do better over time.  He also showed them videos of older students talking about their improving academic performance.   Students he received these presentations grades got better more quickly that those of students who did not receive these messages.  They were also less likely to have dropped out by the end of the second year.

The concept of growth mindsets is central to the message of the healthy memory blog.  The distinctions  between fixed and growth mindsets were well articulated by Carol Dweck in her best selling book “MIndset.”  People with fixed mindsets believe that their intelligence is fixed as to whether they are smart, stupid, or average.  People with growth mindsets believe that it is up to themselves to grow and improve.  The notion of growth mindsets is central to the basic message of the healthy memory blog.  We need to continue to grown our mindsets throughout our entire lifespan.  Enter “Dweck” and “growth mindsets” to read more posts on this topic.  Deck has found that when students were told about how the brain changes and learns, and that intelligence can be boosted. showed increased motivation in class and better test scores as compared to a control group.

Stanford psychologist Geoffrey Cohen has developed WPIs aimed at reducing the achievement gap between white and black university students.  An effective strategy  against stereotype threat is to get people to write about values that are important to the, which is a process called self affirmation.  He found that even a short session improve the grades of black students relative to controls.  I closed the achievement gap by 40%.  Two years later, after a few top-up sessions, the intervention was still having a clear effect.  Cohen has applied this same approach to the achievement gap between men and women in university science courses.

New students frequently feel alienated  and out of place when they arrive in a University setting.  Cohen and a colleague got first-year students to read a report summarizing a survey of older students experience at a university.  They report described how they felt out of place, at first, but that these feelings passed as they settled in and made new friends.  Reading this report not only improved the grades of black students, but also increased their self-reported happiness and health.  These effects persisted three years on, and they have been replicated by much larger studies.

WPIs go way beyond academic performance.  Iran Halperin of the Interdisciplinary Center in e Herizliya, Israel have been developing WPIs to reduce tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He has demonstrated that nurturing a growth mindsets makes people on both sides more open to listening, more willing to compromise for peace, and more likely to forgive.

The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) in the United Kingdom is a partly government owned firm exploring the potential of WPIs.  President Obama launched the US Social and Behavioral Sciences Team to develop WPIs in the U.S.  Similar unites have been established in Germany, Australia, Singapore, Finland, and the Netherlands.

So it appears that WPIs are catching on.

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