Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Learn to Intervene, Wisely


Do you ever look around and see ways that the world could be a better place, especially if people behaved a little differently? Do you wonder what prevents better outcomes?

In this seminar we will examine social-psychological processes that lie behind diverse social problems, especially how people make sense of themselves, other people, or important situations, sometimes in negative ways that undermine the outcomes. Then we will examine interventions that address critical processes for promoting human flourishing. You'll have the opportunity to read and discuss classic and contemporary "wise" psychological interventions such as: how a change in the sign on a hospital soap dispenser can increase soap use; how a change in survey items can raise voter turnout; how a change in a single question can improve dating relationships; and how reading-and-writing exercises that address students' beliefs about intelligence and belonging in school can improve achievement years into the future. In learning about this research, you will discover more about psychological processes—how basic research helps clarify them, how they contribute to social problems in complex field settings, and how they can be altered. We will interweave readings and discussion of past research with problems of interest to you, and your proposals for how to address these problems through social-psychological intervention.

As you learn from past research, you'll have the opportunity to design your very own "wise intervention" and to workshop others' efforts. You will identify a social problem on campus of interest to you, say: How can you reduce waste in the cafeteria? How can you get more people to take the stairs? How can you get people to hold more inclusive attitudes? Then you will identify a psychological process you think contributes to this problem, implement an intervention in the field, and track the results.

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 changing how a test is represented can dramatically affect the degree to which the test produces group differences (called 'stereotype threat'). I realized that such problems as persistent educational inequality 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 at Yale, where I developed a 'social-belonging' intervention to address worries about belonging that arise when people enter settings in which a group they belong to faces a negative stereotype. This 1-hour exercise raised ethnic-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."