Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Learn to Intervene, Wisely


One of the most exciting transformations in the social sciences in recent years is the finding that brief psychological exercises can improve important outcomes for months and years—such as raising school achievement and reducing inequality, improving health, and reducing intergroup conflict. These interventions help individuals flourish and help our society live up to its ideals. They address critical psychological questions people have, like “Do people like me belong in this school?”, “Can I learn math?”, “Am I bad mom?”, and “Can groups in conflict change?”. In this seminar, we will learn about “psychologically wise” interventions; how they work; how they can cause lasting benefits; their intellectual lineage; how they can be used, adapted, and scaled to address contemporary problems; and challenges and mistakes that can arise in doing so. In addition to learning from classic and contemporary research, you will design your very own wise intervention and workshop others’ efforts. Working with a community partner, you will explore a problem your partner faces, identify a specific psychological process you think contributes to this problem, and design an intervention to address this process to improve outcomes, which your partner could implement and evaluate. You will share your approach in a final report with both your seminar-mates and your community partner.

When you have completed this seminar, you will more fully understand the psychological aspect of social problems and how this can be addressed through rigorous research.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Greg Walton

"As a Stanford undergraduate (Class of 2000), I was deeply impressed by Stanford research showing that just shifting how a test is represented can dramatically reduce the degree to which the test produces group differences (reducing what is known as “stereotype threat”). I realized that problems like persistent inequality in school achievement—and the societal inequalities that gives rise to—arise not only from factors such as early disadvantage, which are hard to change, but also from how people make sense of common situations in school, which might be easier. After college, I went to graduate school in psychology, where I developed an intervention to address the worries about social belonging people can have when they enter school settings in which their group is negatively stereotyped or underrepresented. This 1-hour exercise raised racial-minority students’ achievement over the next three years. Later, I served as a Fellow in the United States Senate, completed a post-doc at the University of Waterloo, and joined the Stanford faculty in 2008. I am dedicated to better understanding psychological processes that contribute to diverse social problems, and to learning how to construct interventions that address these processes to help individuals succeed in their lives."