19 Wise interventions from social psychology

The recently published Handbook of Wise Interventions (Walton & Crum, Eds., 2020) provides an overview of wise interventions through contributions from leading researchers. These are brief interventions based on social psychological research that lead to shifts in the way people understand themselves, others and social situations. These other ways of thinking can help make progress in a variety of contexts. Think of school performance, health, well-being and personal relationships. The effects of these types of interventions can sometimes lead to long-term improvements (read why). 

All our problems are (partly) psychological problems 

All our problems are never exclusively psychological problems, but always partly psychological problems. This has to do with the fact that how we interpret situations always influences how we feel and how we behave and thus how our circumstances will develop. 

Changing ineffective interpretations 

We are constantly interpreting what is happening in our lives. These interpretations deal with questions such as: Is something good or bad? Can things change? Who am I and what can I become? and How can I understand other people and relationships? Some interpretations are ineffective. They can make us feel bad, despair, or stop trying. Changing ineffective interpretations of situations can cause individuals to behave differently and thereby function and feel better. Wise interventions aim to achieve this. 

Overview of 19 wise interventions 

Here is an overview of the 19 wise interventions detailed in the handbook. Interventions 1 to 7 are mainly about education, 8 to 12 mainly about health and well-being, 13 to 17 mainly about conflicts and relationships and 18 and 19 about sustainability.

  1. Growth mindset interventions about intelligence: growth mindset interventions provide students with the information that their intellectual capacities are not fixed but can be developed through effort, effective strategies, and help and input from others. In addition, the intervention resonates with the student's own experience. The intervention consists of three elements: 1) scientific credibility (by pointing to findings about neuroplasticity), 2) a catchy metaphor (for example, of the brain as a muscle that gets stronger through (examples: statements by older students, writing assignments, and having students describe how a smarter brain could help them achieve what they want in their lives). (Read more). 
  2. The social belonging intervention: intervention aimed at making people feel at home in a new educational environment. This intervention is especially important for people who are under-represented in that new environment and / or who belong to a stereotyped group. The intervention often takes the form of stories from people from the same group who have previously successfully become part of the organization or training. These stories contain three elements: 1) normalization: it is normal to wonder if you belong, 2) the problems you experience do not mean that you do not belong, 3) over time and with effort you will normally feel at home in the new environment. (Read more). 
  3. Self-affirmation interventions: an intervention that gives people confirmation that they are moral and adapted persons at times that are threatening to their self-esteem. The intervention means that (for example) students are asked to reflect in writing for about 10 minutes on a number of values ​​that they can choose from a list and that are important to them personally. The intervention protects self-esteem and reduces the stress of the situation. (Read more). 
  4. Utility-value interventions: intervention that helps students make the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and their own lives. The intervention increases the interest, learning performance and persistence of students, even among lower performing and insecure students. (Read more). 
  5. Difference education (theory-of-difference interventions): intervention aimed at underprivileged students to help them overcome psychological obstacles. The intervention aims to exchange success stories of students from different backgrounds and teaches students that different backgrounds can bring different experiences and obstacles, that these should not hinder you from achieving your goals, and that you can overcome obstacles. (Read more). 
  6. The pathways interventions: intervention consisting of several workshops spread over several weeks. The intervention allows students to form a picture of their desired future adult identity and then devise strategies to realize this. Among other things, use is made of the identification of role models and possibly obstructing people in their environment. Time paths and obstacles are then mapped. Then attention is paid to developing relevant skills and beliefs (such as that difficulties, mistakes are normal). (Read more). 
  7. The strategic resource use intervention: intervention (often online) that aims to get students to reflect on how to effectively use the resources they have to study for exams. They learn what they can use and why, as well as when, where and how. (Read more). 
  8. Happiness interventions: interventions aimed at making people feel happier. Examples include: expressing gratitude, performing acts of kindness, focusing on your strengths). 
  9. Stress-mindset interventions: intervention aimed at shifting people's belief that stress is something undermining towards the belief that stress can lead to improvement. This intervention can contribute to better health, well-being and functioning. (Read more).
  10. Stress reappraisal interventions (stress reappraisal interventions): intervention that aims to improve the response to stress that leads to better functioning, better realization of goals and even better health. For example, the intervention teaches people that physical signals of stress (such as a higher heart rate) are effective ways to deal with stress. (Read more). 
  11. Values-Alignment interventions: intervention aimed at converting 'musts' ('I must exercise more', 'I must lose weight', etc.) into behavior that already corresponds with the values ​​that the person has. (Read more). 
  12. The taste-focused-labeling intervention: intervention aimed at promoting healthy eating behavior by focusing on the good taste of the good food and other pleasurable characteristics of the food. The intervention helps to change the reason for the healthy eating, so that it is perceived as less heavy and instrumental and the person is more behind it. (Read more). 
  13. The incremental theory of personality intervention (mindset interventions focused on personality): intervention aimed at making people see that their socially relevant personal characteristics can be changed. The intervention leads to social problems being perceived as less threatening. The intervention can contribute to better stress management, mental health and school performance. (Read more). 
  14. The empathetic-discipline intervention: intervention that aims to make teachers think differently about difficult behavior in the classroom, so that they can respond more empathically. The change from a punitive mindset to an empathetic mindset helps teachers to appreciate the student's perspective more, assist in student growth and maintain good relationships with the student. This intervention uses self-belief techniques (by asking teachers to explain how they manage to respond empathetically to misbehavior and the benefits of this). (Read more). 
  15. The group-malleability intervention: These interventions teach members of groups that groups can change. This intervention can contribute to resolving intergroup conflicts. (Read more). 
  16. The reappraising emotions intervention (for couples): intervention aimed at maintaining the quality of marital relationships. Part of this intervention is to view couples conflict with their partners from a third person perspective. The intervention helps to interpret emotions differently in conflicts and to deal with them better. (Read more). 
  17. The abstract reframing intervention: intervention aimed at strengthening certainty among partners about their relationship. Partners are asked to remember and view a compliment from their partner as a meaningful and significant example of how their partner admires them in a broader sense. (Read more). 
  18. The social norms approach: intervention that tells people that other people exhibit certain desired behavior and will appreciate them if they also exhibit that behavior. (Read more). 
  19. Dynamic norms interventions: intervention used in situations where most people contribute to the problem (for example, waste, pollution, etc.). The intervention works by informing people about positive changes in other people (eg: X% of people eat meat less often ”). (Read more).

Description of the wise interventions 

The authors describe each intervention in a standardized and detailed manner. They describe what the intervention is based on, evidence for the effectiveness of the intervention, how it works, what long-term effects there are and for whom and when the intervention is particularly suitable. They also describe with which other interventions the relevant intervention is related, how it can be carried out exactly and what nuances and misconceptions there are about the intervention. Finally, they describe implications for practice and theory and make recommendations for future research. 

Two caveats 

A first caveat to the overview of wise interventions discussed below is that none of them are miracle remedies that always work for everyone. A second caveat is that the list is based on the current state of knowledge in social psychology. Since science is a self-correcting and improving process, this list should be seen not as a definitive overview but as a work in progress. 


Rodney said…
Thank you for this comprehensive overview. I found nd some of these ideas intriguing. Do these interventions work if the person knows about them? I may try a few on myself.
Coert Visser said…
Hi Rodney,
Good to hear from you. Which interventions stood out for you? Generally, I think many of these interventions may work even if you know about them. And they may be applicable to oneself. For instance, growth mindset interventions, like normalising, focusing on process (vs. results) etc may be useful even if you apply them to yourself.

I appreciate your question, as it highlights the reality that we, as psychologists and professionals, may be just as susceptible to biases and toxic thoughts as anyone else. This acknowledgement reinforces the fact that interventions of this kind are not only beneficial for our clients and students - the 'others' - but may also be invaluable for our own self-improvement.