Brief Interventions that Improve Achievement

During the past 20 years researchers have developed several types of brief interventions--some as brief as 15 minutes--that can have striking effects on students' achievement. These are not teaching strategies, but instead, social psychological interventions that focus on how students think about themselves and school. They are intended to reduce barriers that impede student achievement. Each of the following videos describes one such intervention. Part 1 is about Values Affirmation and describes how simple values affirmation exercises can have a positive effect on student achievement. Before a course, students simply write about values that are important to them. Their achievement improves more than that of students who do not write about their values. Part 2 focuses on Social Belonging and describes a study in which students participated in several exercises that improved their sense of belonging in school. The intervention had long-term positive effects on their academic achievement. And, Part 3 is about Attribution Training which describes how it is possible to change the way students think about their own success and failure. This, in turn, has a positive effect on their achievement.

Brief Intervention 1: Values Affirmation

Brief Intervention 2: Social Belonging

Brief Intervention 3: Attribution Training

Studies cited in the videos

Values Affirmation

Miyake, A., Kost-Smoth, L. E., Finkelstein, N. D., Pollock, S. J., Cohen, G. L., & Ito, A. (2010). Reducing the gender achievement gap in college science: A classroom study of values affirmation. Science, 330, 1234–1237.

Social Belonging

Walton, G. & Cohen, G. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science. 331, pp. 1447-1451.


Wilson, T. D., & Linville, P. W. (1985). Improving the performance of college freshmen with attributional techniques. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 287–293.

Excellent Review Article

Yeager, D. & Walton, G. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267-301.

Additional Print and Multimedia Resources

Popular articles about the physics value affirmation study

Podcast with authors of physics study--log in through Murphy Library

Videos and a podcast about stereotype threat

The Situationist Blog associated with the Project on Law and the Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School