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Why Interventions to Influence Adolescent Behavior Often Fail but Could Succeed

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This paper provides a developmental science-based perspective on two related issues: (1) why traditional preventative school-based interventions work reasonably well for children, but less so for middle adolescents, and (2) why some alternative intervention approaches show promise for middle adolescents. The authors propose the hypothesis that traditional interventions fail when they do not align with adolescents’ enhanced desire to feel respected and be accorded status; however, interventions that do align with this desire can motivate internalized, positive behavior change. The paper reviews examples of promising interventions that (1) directly harness the desire for status and respect, (2) provide adolescents with more respectful treatment from adults, or (3) lessen the negative influence of threats to status and respect. These examples are in the domains of unhealthy snacking, middle school discipline, and high school aggression. Discussion centers on implications for basic developmental science and for improvements to youth policy and practice.
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https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617722620
Perspectives on Psychological Science
2018, Vol. 13(1) 101 –122
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1745691617722620
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Adolescence is a maturational period of tremendous
learning, exploration, and opportunity (for reviews see
Blakemore & Mills, 2014; Crone & Dahl, 2012; Steinberg,
2014; Telzer, 2016). It is also a time when behavioral and
health problems can emerge or worsen, with conse-
quences that “stick” long into adulthood (e.g., Paus,
Keshavan, & Giedd, 2008). For instance, depressive
symptoms rise substantially during adolescence
(Andersen & Teicher, 2008; Merikangas etal., 2010), and
most depressed adults suffer their first depressive epi-
sode during adolescence (e.g., Pine, Cohen, Gurley,
Brook, & Ma, 1998). Likewise, school engagement often
declines during the transition to high school (see Benner,
2011), and students who drop out of high school go on
to earn substantially lower wages even if they later earn
a GED (see Heckman, Humphries, & Kautz, 2014)
Educational interventions delivered broadly in
schools (i.e., universal preventative interventions) are
commonly implemented with the aim of preventing
these and other problems, including bullying, violence,
obesity, delinquency, substance abuse, and teen preg-
nancy (for a commentary, see Steinberg, 2015). The
theory of change underlying many of these interven-
tions comes out of behavioral decision-making theories
(e.g., Albarracin, Johnson, Fishbein, & Muellerleile,
2001; Fischhoff, 2008; Fishbein, 2008), which propose
that increasing knowledge of health risks, skills for
achieving health goals, and awareness of societal values
regarding healthy behavior will lead to positive behav-
ior change. Traditional interventions rooted in these
theories typically involve classroom presentations that
present relevant health information and invite young
people to practice implementing skills (via scenarios,
skits, or homework), coupled with school-wide assem-
blies or announcements during which adults publicly
endorse the values taught by the program (see descrip-
tions in Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, &
Schellinger, 2011; Stice, Shaw, & Marti, 2006; Yeager,
Fong, Lee, & Espelage, 2015).
Unfortunately, during adolescence, a developmental
stage during which universal prevention programs are
greatly needed, traditional programs show reduced
effectiveness. Indeed, Heckman and Kautz (2013), after
722620PPSXXX10.1177/1745691617722620Yeager et al.Improving Adolescent Interventions
research-article2017
Corresponding Author:
David S. Yeager, 108 E. Dean Keeton, Stop A8000, University of Texas
at Austin, Austin, TX 78712-1043
E-mail: dyeager@utexas.edu
Why Interventions to Influence Adolescent
Behavior Often Fail but Could Succeed
David S. Yeager1, Ronald E. Dahl2, and Carol S. Dweck3
1Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin; 2School of Public Health, University of
California, Berkeley; and 3Department of Psychology, Stanford University
Abstract
We provide a developmental perspective on two related issues: (a) why traditional preventative school-based
interventions work reasonably well for children but less so for middle adolescents and (b) why some alternative
approaches to interventions show promise for middle adolescents. We propose the hypothesis that traditional
interventions fail when they do not align with adolescents’ enhanced desire to feel respected and be accorded status;
however, interventions that do align with this desire can motivate internalized, positive behavior change. We review
examples of promising interventions that (a) directly harness the desire for status and respect, (b) provide adolescents
with more respectful treatment from adults, or (c) lessen the negative influence of threats to status and respect. These
examples are in the domains of unhealthy snacking, middle school discipline, and high school aggression. Discussion
centers on implications for basic developmental science and for improvements to youth policy and practice.
Keywords
adolescence, behavior change, puberty, testosterone, autonomy, status, interventions
102 Yeager et al.
a review of the literature, concluded that “programs
that target adolescents have not been established to be
as effective as programs that target earlier ages” (p. 35).
Going a step further, Steinberg (2015) stated that ado-
lescent “classroom-based health education is an uphill
battle against evolution and endocrinology, and it is not
a fight we are likely to win” (p. 711).
This perspective is justified given the data we review
below. However, the limited success of many traditional
prevention efforts might say more about their methods
than about the impossibility of positive behavior change
during adolescence.
In the present article, we propose an explanation for
why comprehensive and lengthy school-based universal
prevention efforts often go from being somewhat effec-
tive with children to being mostly ineffective with mid-
dle adolescents. Furthermore, we explore why some
alternative interventions are showing promising effects
in middle adolescence, even though they are relatively
targeted and efficient (Cohen & Sherman, 2014;
Lazowski & Hulleman, 2015; Walton, 2014; Wilson,
2011; Yeager & Walton, 2011). Our thesis is that, com-
pared with children, adolescents are more sensitive to
whether they are being treated with respect and
accorded high status. Traditional programs might work
against this sensitivity, but effective adolescent interven-
tions allow young people to make choices that benefit
their long-term future while also feeling that they are
respected and have high status in the short term.
Overview
In this article, we first review evidence from multiple
domains that show age-related declines in the efficacy
of traditional adolescent problem-behavior prevention.
Second, we offer a preliminary developmental model
that could account for this. The model integrates emerg-
ing evidence in multiple areas of developmental sci-
ence, including neuroscience, physiology, and the study
of adolescent emotion and behavior. Third, acknowl-
edging that we cannot definitively test this new model
given the existing data, we provide evidence from inter-
ventions that have shown efficacy in adolescence and
that support specific aspects of the model. Fourth, we
discuss research ideas for further evaluating and extend-
ing the model—and ultimately creating the next genera-
tion of improved interventions.
Defining Adolescence
Following many past reviews, we define adolescence
as the maturational period that begins at the onset of
puberty and ends with a transition to an adult role in
society (e.g., Blakemore & Mills, 2014; Crone & Dahl,
2012; Steinberg, 2014). Thus, adolescence is thought to
have a biological onset and a sociocultural offset.
We focus mainly on “middle adolescence” because this
is where the developmental patterns under review are
most striking and where there are plausible developmen-
tal mechanisms that could account for them. Middle ado-
lescence is defined as a period after the initial stages of
pubertal maturation have begun but before young people
have fully adjusted to the rapid developments in their
bodies and before they have been accorded full adult
status by society. In developed nations such as the United
States, the middle adolescent period refers roughly to the
ages of 13 or 14 to 17, or grades 7 or 8 to 11.
We acknowledge that chronological age is only a
proxy for the relevant developmental processes. The
onset of puberty occurs at different chronological ages
for different individuals, and maturation can vary sub-
stantially across racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups.
Moreover, pubertal maturation involves a series of cas-
cading biological processes (increases in pubertal hor-
mones and rapid physical changes, including body-hair
growth, sexual maturation, height increase, and men-
arche) that can occur in a coordinated fashion, or not
(see Mendle, 2014). Nonetheless, we describe findings
in terms of chronological age or grade level because (a)
the existing evidence base primarily reports these and
(b) they covary with purported developmental mecha-
nisms. As future intervention studies begin to include
measures of pubertal maturation and other developmen-
tal processes, greater precision will become possible.
Evidence for Age-Related Declines in
Traditional Intervention Efficacy
Effect sizes from meta-analyses of a variety of adoles-
cent interventions suggest that average benefits are
weaker among middle adolescents (ages 13–17) com-
pared with young children or children transitioning into
adolescence (ages 9–12). This is true for individual
studies with large sample sizes (e.g., Karna etal., 2011),
but we focus on meta-analyses.
Consider interventions to prevent obesity. A meta-
analysis of 64 universal interventions (Stice etal., 2006)
found that healthy-eating and exercise-promotion inter-
ventions were effective for young children and early
adolescents, but not for middle adolescents. For the
latter age group, effect sizes clustered around zero, and
many effect sizes were negative, which means that ado-
lescents in many programs tended to gain more weight
when they received an antiobesity program than when
they did not.
In the domain of depression prevention, one meta-
analysis (Horowitz & Garber, 2006) reported that uni-
versal preventative interventions for middle adolescents
Improving Adolescent Interventions 103
had a nonsignificant average effect of d = .02 at follow-
up (p. 409) and weaker effects for adolescents than for
adults. Another meta-analysis (Stice, Shaw, Bohon,
Marti, & Rohde, 2009) showed nonsignificant effects of
universal interventions at follow-up, r = .07. Further-
more, we conducted a between-study meta-regression
of the Stice etal. (2009) results for children and ado-
lescents only (using data reported in their Table 4,
pp. 496–497) and found a negative correlation between
effect size and age, r = −.48, such that middle adoles-
cents showed smaller (and nonsignificant) effects com-
pared with younger individuals.1
Or consider social-emotional skill training interven-
tions in general, which teach an array of coping and
social skills. Durlak etal. (2011) meta-analyzed 213
school-based, universal, social and emotional interven-
tions delivered from kindergarten to 12th grade. A
between-study analysis of moderators found a negative
correlation between age and effect size, r = −.27: Middle
adolescents showed smaller improvements in social-
emotional skills relative to younger children.
These results, although informative, are potentially
subject to ecological fallacies. Metaregressions compare
different interventions given to children of different
ages and therefore mask the possibility that the same
intervention given to different age groups in the same
study might show a different moderation pattern (for a
commentary, see Cooper & Patall, 2009). However, a
recent meta-analysis of antibullying interventions
avoided this ecological fallacy. Yeager etal. (2015)
obtained an effect size for each age group in a given
study (72 effect sizes total) and then estimated within-
study age-related trends. They found that traditional
antibullying interventions were effective from early
childhood to early adolescence (d = .13). When the
interventions were delivered to middle adolescents (8th
grade or later), however, there was a decline to a null
effect (d = .01; see Fig. 1). That is, the interventions
that are available to high schools for purchase have not
yet been effective, on average, even though several U.S.
states have mandated that schools purchase and imple-
ment antibullying programs (Bierman, 2010).
Pessimism about traditional intervention approaches
delivered to middle adolescents also comes from meta-
analyses of studies conducted only within this age group.
Interventions to reduce recidivism for juvenile delin-
quents were summarized in a meta-analysis of 28 studies
and 19,301 youths aged 12 to 16. It found no significant
benefits, on average (Schwalbe, Gearing, MacKenzie,
Brewer, & Ibrahim, 2012). There was heterogeneity, how-
ever, and one type of intervention, restorative justice,
showed benefits (we will return to this later).
In sum, traditional interventions to prevent problem-
atic behavior or health outcomes have shown some
promise with children or early adolescents. There is not
yet strong evidence that the traditional programs show
benefits, on average, for middle adolescents, which in
the United States spans the end of middle school and
the first few years of high school.
This summary is not the final word, however. First,
only one of the meta-analyses we reviewed (Yeager
etal., 2015) used within-study moderation by age. Sec-
ond, there was often unexplained heterogeneity in past
meta-analyses. We are not saying that no traditional
intervention has ever been effective with middle ado-
lescents or that no traditional intervention ever could
be effective. We can conclude only that traditional inter-
ventions that have appeared in meta-analyses have not
been effective, on average, for middle adolescents
across multiple domains—including obesity prevention,
depression prevention, bullying, recidivism, and social-
emotional skill-building in general—even though evalu-
ations of the same or similar programs found benefits
for younger individuals.
A Proposed Framework for
Understanding and Improving
Adolescent Interventions
Do the discouraging results of traditional intervention
evaluations mean that, by middle adolescence, we have
missed our window for creating positive behavior
change? That patterns of behavior have become set,
like plaster? We do not think so.
−.2
−.1
.0
.1
.2
.3
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th11th 12th
Grade Level
Predicted Effectivess of School-Based
Bullying Prevention Programs (Cohen’s d)
Fig. 1. Predicted effectiveness of school-based bullying-prevention
programs (Cohen’s d) as a function of grade level in school (Yeager,
Fong, Lee, & Espelage, 2015). Values are estimated from a three-level
meta-analysis. Higher values correspond to more beneficial effect
sizes (i.e., less bullying). Grade levels are on the U.S. scale.
104 Yeager et al.
Adolescence is a dynamic period of learning and
change (Casey, 2015; Steinberg, 2014; Telzer, 2016),
especially, we argue, when what adolescents are learn-
ing about is relevant to status and respect in their lives
(see Blakemore & Mills, 2014; Crone & Dahl, 2012). We
propose three hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1:. Compared with younger individuals,
middle adolescents show a greater sensitivity to sta-
tus and respect, resulting from pubertal maturation
(e.g., changes in hormones), changes in social con-
text (e.g., school transitions), and social-cognitive
developments.
Hypothesis 2:. Traditional interventions do not suf-
ficiently honor this greater sensitivity to status and
respect, making the interventions less effective.
Hypothesis 3:. Improved interventions could honor
the sensitivity to status and respect and thereby cap-
ture adolescent attention and motivation to create
behavior change.
Defining the sensitivity to
status and respect
We define sensitivity to status and respect as a readiness
to align attention, motivation, and behavior with the
potentially rewarding feelings that come from attaining
status or being respected. In turn, status is defined as
one’s relative rank in a social hierarchy (see Anderson,
Hildreth, & Howland, 2015; Maner & Case, 2016; Mattan,
Kubota, & Cloutier, 2017). Individuals discern their sta-
tus in part on the basis of how others treat them, and
in particular whether others treat them with respect
(Anderson etal., 2015; Miller, 2001). Respect is a com-
plex, gestalt social judgment that hinges on whether one
is being granted the rights one expects to be granted in
one’s role in society (see Miller, 2001; Ruck, Abramovitch,
& Keating, 1998; see also an analysis of naturalistic
respectful language in Voigt etal., 2017). Reports from
anthropological, evolutionary, and psychological per-
spectives have noted that individuals feel respected and
that they have high status when they are treated as
though they are competent, have agency and autonomy,
and are of potential value to the group (e.g., when sup-
porting self-determination rights, Ryan & Deci, 2000;
see also a discussion of “prestige” in Maner & Case,
2016). Finally, status and respect-relevant experiences
can be highly rewarding (e.g., L. E. Sherman, Payton,
Hernandez, Greenfield, & Dapretto, 2016); they elicit
social emotions such as pride and admiration, which
makes them motivationally salient. Likewise, being dis-
respected or treated as low status can be painful and
elicit social emotions such as shame or humiliation.
Compared with younger students,
middle adolescents are more sensitive
to status and respect
Evidence from three sources shows that middle adoles-
cents have a greater sensitivity to status and respect
than younger individuals.
Pubertal hormones. The first source of evidence involves
hormones affected by pubertal maturation, such as testoster-
one, estradiol, cortisol, oxytocin, and dehydroepiandrosterone
(DHEA; e.g., Klapwijk etal., 2013; for reviews, see Blakemore,
Burnett, & Dahl, 2010; Peper & Dahl, 2013; Sisk & Zehr,
2005). We focus mostly on testosterone because more is
known about its relevance to pursuit and maintenance of
status.
Testosterone increases dramatically after the onset
of puberty in both boys and girls (see Fig. 6 in Braams,
van Duijvenvoorde, Peper, & Crone, 2015). Testosterone
is often stereotyped as an “aggression” or “sex” hor-
mone (Eisenegger, Naef, Snozzi, Heinrichs, & Fehr,
2010), but a growing line of research in both humans
and animals suggests that it increases the motivation to
search for, learn about, and maintain status in one’s
social environment (De Lorme & Sisk, 2013; Eisenegger,
Haushofer, & Fehr, 2011; Josephs, Sellers, Newman, &
Mehta, 2006; Mehta & Josephs, 2006; for a review, see
Terburg & van Honk, 2013).
At an attentional level, endogenous levels of testos-
terone predict greater reactivity to status-relevant emo-
tional stimuli (Goddings, Burnett Heyes, Bird, Viner, &
Blakemore, 2012). Experimentally administered testos-
terone has increased adults’ attention to status-relevant
stimuli, such as cues of physical dominance (Goetz
etal., 2014; Welling, Moreau, Bird, Hansen, & Carré,
2016; for a review, see Bos, Panksepp, Bluthé, & van
Honk, 2012). Testosterone predicts a readiness to learn
about the criteria for status and respect in a given con-
text and then behave in ways that satisfy those criteria.
In a classic study, adolescent males high in endogenous
testosterone showed greater aggression when they had
deviant friends but greater leadership when they did
not have deviant friends (Rowe, Maughan, Worthman,
Costello, & Angold, 2004). In a recent study with adults,
experimentally administered testosterone promoted
either antisocial or prosocial behavior depending on
which type of behavior the experimenter led partici-
pants to believe would enhance status the most (Dreher
etal., 2016; for a related Syrian-hamster study, see De
Lorme & Sisk, 2013).
Illustrating our model, another recent laboratory
experiment (Yeager, Hirschi, & Josephs, 2017) randomly
assigned adults to be asked to carry out an unpleasant
but healthy behavior (i.e., taking “medicine” that was
Improving Adolescent Interventions 105
actually a spoonful of Vegemite, a yeast extract). Lan-
guage was either respectful and honored autonomy and
competence (e.g., “you might consider taking the medi-
cine”) or was disrespectful and threatened autonomy
and competence (e.g., “just take the medicine”; see
Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Sheldon, & Deci, 2004).
Respectful language increased adherence—participants
consumed 60% more medicine—and sensitivity to
respectful language was stronger among those high in
endogenous testosterone (measured via saliva) and also
among low-testosterone individuals who were admin-
istered testosterone (via nasal spray; Yeager, Hirschi, &
Josephs, 2017). This is direct evidence for a key claim
of our model: Testosterone—a hormone implicated in
pubertal maturation—causes an increased behavioral
responsiveness to respectful treatment.
Reactivity to social threat. Second, at multiple levels
of analysis, middle adolescents have shown greater reac-
tivity to experiences that threaten status. In one study,
middle adolescents (age 15) showed a significant cortisol
response when they faced a social threat (i.e., the Trier
Social Stress Test or TSST; Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer,
1993), but children and early adolescents (ages 9–13) did
not (Gunnar, Wewerka, Frenn, Long, & Griggs, 2009).
The exception was 13-year-old girls, who did show corti-
sol reactivity. This finding is consistent with the notion
that pubertal maturation (which girls experience at ear-
lier ages than boys do), and not chronological age, causes
a greater sensitivity to status and respect threats. In another
study, middle adolescents who suffered a threat to status
(i.e., peer rejection) reported greater distress and showed
more neural activation in regions associated with social
cognition compared with children or younger adolescents
(Gunther Moor, van Leijenhorst, Rombouts, Crone, & Van
der Molen, 2010). Furthermore, the simple act of being
watched by a peer elicited more embarrassment among
middle adolescents than among younger individuals
(Somerville etal., 2013; see also research on the adoles-
cent “imaginary audience” by Elkind & Bowen, 1979).
Social-cognitive developments. Third, middle adoles-
cents come to perceive adult authorities’ efforts to influ-
ence their behavior, even when seemingly benign, as a
sign that they are being disrespected or deprived of full
adult status. Research on self-determination rights (Ruck
etal., 1998; Ruck, Peterson-Badali, & Day, 2002; also see
Ryan & Deci, 2000; Smetana & Villalobos, 2009) shows
that adolescents, compared with children, come to dis-
agree with adults’ judgments that they are not ready to
display agency and control over personal choices. In one
study (Ruck et al., 1998), participants ages 8 to 16
responded to scenarios in which, for example, an adoles-
cent wrote a story for the school newspaper that was
critical of school rules, and the principal suppressed it.
Only about half of the children and early adolescents (age
8–12) said the adult should have respected the adoles-
cent’s right to exert agency over the situation, compared
with nearly three fourths of middle adolescents (ages 14–
16; calculations conducted with statistics reported in Table
2 of Ruck etal., 1998, p. 208). More tellingly, eighth graders
(roughly age 14) had the largest gap between their beliefs
that adults should respect their right to make their own
choices, on the one hand, and adults’ beliefs about what
adolescents are competent enough to do so, on the other
(Ruck etal., 2002; also see Ruck etal., 1998; for a related
perspective on the “maturity gap,” see Moffitt, 1993).
Interventions can become ineffective
when they fail to honor this adolescent
sensitivity to status and respect
We argue that many universal school-based preventative
interventions, both in what they say and in how they
say it, insufficiently honor adolescents’ desire to feel
respected and accorded status. This can make the inter-
ventions less effective than they otherwise could be.
What the interventions say. What might ineffective inter-
ventions be saying that conflicts with adolescents’ desire to
feel respected and high status? Traditional interventions
often focus on providing knowledge or self-regulation skills
with the intent of suppressing short-term desires for the sake
of long-term goals. In doing so, these interventions may
ignore or fight against the powerful reasons why adolescents
are engaging in the “problem” behavior in the first place (for
a related argument, see Ellis etal., 2012).
Recall the ineffective antibullying interventions for
adolescents (Yeager etal., 2015). Why do adolescents
bully? It is not always because they fail to understand
that aggression hurts others or because they categorically
lack self-control. Although deficits in social and cognitive
skills predict greater bullying in childhood, as expected,
the same is not true for high school students (for meta-
analytic evidence, see Cook, Williams, Guerra, Kim, &
Sadek, 2010). Middle adolescents often bully to gain or
demonstrate social status (Pellegrini & Long, 2002). Mod-
erately or highly popular youths—who often have suf-
ficient self-regulatory skills and knowledge of societal
norms about aggression, but also have the requisite
social competence to strategically undermine others’
reputations—often bully the most (Faris & Felmlee, 2011;
see Yeager etal., 2015 for a review). Hence traditional
interventions that enhance social and cognitive skills
among middle adolescents are not always addressing the
underlying motivation—a desire to gain or demonstrate
social reputation—and may even be increasing the social
skills young people need to bully more effectively.
106 Yeager et al.
How the interventions say it. How do traditional inter-
ventions deliver their messages, and how might these
modes of delivery be problematic? Heavy-handed meth-
ods of instruction—lectures, assemblies, homework—may
backfire even when they are disseminating relevant infor-
mation. Many adolescents are already aware that risky
behaviors are bad for their health (for a review, see Reyna
& Farley, 2006). Imparting information that adolescents
feel they already have, repeatedly over multiple sessions
and in multiple forms, may come across as infantilizing
and therefore disrespectful.
We note that research has not definitively shown that
how an intervention presents its message—its format or
tenor—can threaten status or respect and undermine
behavior change. However, research has shown that adult-
delivered messages that come across as nagging can affect
relevant adolescent brain activity. One study found that
maternal nagging activated anger-related regions and
reduced activity in regions related to planning how to
change behavior (Lee, Siegle, Dahl, Hooley, & Silk, 2014).
Furthermore, skill-building programs that require
high school students to risk social status to participate
can reduce use of the program—even when adolescents
know that the skills are useful for their long-term goals.
For instance, one field experiment made an SAT-prep
course seem to have low status. This decreased signups
for the free course, even though students believed the
course was helpful and knew that high SAT scores were
critical for college admission and long-term success
(Bursztyn & Jensen, 2015).
Finally, Allen, Philliber, and Herre (1994) showed that
adolescents’ reports that an intervention supported their
feelings of autonomy—a key contributor to feelings of
respect and status in adolescence—moderated the effi-
cacy of a school-based preventative intervention on
outcomes such as course failures, suspensions, and
pregnancy. When adolescents felt “like the facilitator
makes all the decisions” and “the facilitator doesn’t listen
to things they say,” they benefitted less from the inter-
vention, but when adolescents got “to help decide what
the group will do” and felt that the “facilitator really
listens to things they say,” they benefitted more from
the intervention (Allen etal., 1994).
More effective interventions honor the
sensitivity to status and respect and
promote attention, motivation, and
behavior as a result
Last, we hypothesize that it may be possible to capital-
ize on adolescents’ sensitivity to status and respect and
redirect it toward positive behavior change.
Imagine interventions that make a young person feel
that he or she is worthy of respect and is admired by
others. In such interventions, young people would be
treated in accordance with their worthwhile knowledge,
their ability to exercise agency in life, and their poten-
tial to make a contribution and be of value to the group.
Perhaps even time-limited exposures to such feelings
of status and respect could, during this sensitized
period of adolescence, be enough to start a meaningful
change in behavior. In the remainder of the article, we
discuss various methods to move programs closer to
achieving this possibility.
Three Case Studies
Overview
We present concrete examples of interventions that, in
various ways, were sensitive to adolescents’ desire for
status and respect. These illustrate three different
approaches:
Harnessing the adolescent desire for status and
respect.
Making interactions with adults more respectful.
Lessening the influence of status and respect
threats.
This list is illustrative, not exhaustive. Examples come
from the domains of unhealthy snacking, school disci-
pline, and aggression. All of the interventions were
evaluated with participants who were between the sec-
ond semester of 7th grade and the second semester of
10th grade, which is the age range during which tradi-
tional interventions lose effectiveness, on average.
Because these represent relatively new approaches,
the interventions are more limited in scope, and the
data are usually from shorter-term demonstrations of
efficacy (sometimes 1 day to a few weeks). However,
each case we present shows initial promise, speaks to
the theoretical model proposed here, and includes evi-
dence of mechanisms. Therefore, each may serve as a
guide for the development or improvement of future
interventions.
The examples come primarily from studies that we or
our colleagues conducted, because we know them inti-
mately and, more importantly, because they included
measures of our proposed mechanisms. However, many
other examples could have illustrated similar points, most
notably in the domain of academic achievement (J. M.
Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell, Trzesniewski,
& Dweck, 2007; Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-Vaughns, Apfel,
& Brzustoski, 2009; Destin & Oyserman, 2009; Eskreis-
Winkler etal., 2016; Gehlbach etal., 2016; Good, Aronson,
& Inzlicht, 2003; Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009; Paluck
& Shepherd, 2012; D. K. Sherman etal., 2013; Stephens,
Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, & Covarrubias, 2012; for a
review, see Wilson, 2011).
Improving Adolescent Interventions 107
Finally, each of the interventions reviewed in detail
required relatively little time for participants to com-
plete. This does not mean that they took relatively little
time to develop; R&D can last several years and involve
thousands of participants (e.g., Yeager, Romero, etal.,
2016). Nor does the brevity of the interventions we
highlight mean that longer and more comprehensive
interventions cannot be attuned to the adolescent desire
for status and respect. We review successful, longer
interventions after the three main cases.
Harnessing the adolescent desire
for status and respect: the case of
unhealthy snacking
Can the adolescent desire for status and respect be har-
nessed and put to use in the service of healthy behavior?
Bryan and colleagues (2016) recently developed a
behavioral approach to reduce junk-food snacking
among 8th-grade students. Bryan etal. (2016) began with
the presumption that, for many adolescents, healthy eat-
ing is construed as low status—for instance, adolescents
may believe that “healthy eaters are lame nerds who do
what their parents tell them.” To combat this, Bryan etal.
(2016) sought to redefine what it meant to be a healthy
eater so that it had greater social-status appeal, by creat-
ing the impression that “healthy eaters are independent-
minded people who make the world a better place.
What did the intervention say to make healthier eat-
ing seem to have high status? The Bryan etal. interven-
tion took the form of an exposé of industry practices
(see Table 1, rightmost column). It used journalistic
accounts (e.g., Moss, 2013) to describe how food
companies pay scientists to make junk food addictive
to children’s brains; how companies hired former
tobacco executives to use cartoons to market the food
to children so they could become addicted; and how
food executives themselves will not eat the junk food
or let their children eat it, making them hypocrites.
Hence, the intervention led to the conclusion that
people who buy junk food are giving money to execu-
tives who are disrespecting young people by thinking
they will not stand up for themselves. Viewed from this
perspective, being the kind of person who stands up
to these executives by eschewing junk food enhances
one’s status—it allows one to join a social movement,
and it affords the chance to demonstrate one’s compe-
tence and mastery over adult authorities.
The Bryan etal. (2016) approach was inspired in
part by the “truth” antismoking campaign (https://www
.thetruth.com; Farrelly, Davis, Haviland, Messeri, & Healton,
2005; Farrelly etal., 2002; Henriksen, Dauphinee, Wang,
& Fortmann, 2006). In the truth campaign, television
advertisements depicted rebellious, autonomous ado-
lescents flooding the streets, screaming into megaphones
at rich, old tobacco executives in high-rise buildings in
Manhattan, telling them to “take a day off” from tricking
and harming children for the sake of profit. This har-
nessed the desire for status and respect. In an evalua-
tion study, teens exposed to the truth campaign said
“not smoking is a way to express independence” and
disagreed that “smoking makes people your age look
cool” (Farrelly, Davis, Duke, & Messeri, 2009). The truth
campaign was estimated to have prevented 450,000 ado-
lescents from initiating smoking (Farrelly, Nonnemaker,
Davis, & Hussin, 2009).
Table 1. Programs to Promote Healthy Eating
Program characteristic
Common features of
traditional interventions
An intervention that harnesses the
desire for status and respect
What they say This is how your body processes
unhealthy foods.
Eating healthy (and avoiding junk) now
will make your body healthier later
when you’re older.
Food companies pay scientists to make junk food
addictive to children’s brains.
Companies hired former tobacco executives to market
addictive junk to children and poor people.
Those executives won’t let their own children eat the
junk food.
Every time you buy junk food, you give money to
rich people who think you don’t know any better.
How they say it • Classroom lectures from teachers
• Whole-school assemblies
• Colorful diagrams or videos
• Skits and role plays
Parent training, so kids get the message
at home
• Homework
• Exposé of harmful food industry practices
Quotes from outraged high-status upperclassmen who
vowed to change their habits
• Writing a persuasive essay to future students
Note: Common features of traditional interventions are abridged from descriptions of materials often disseminated in schools (Let’s Move, 2017) or
described in past meta-analyses (Stice, Shaw, & Marti, 2006).
108 Yeager et al.
How did the Bryan etal. (2016) intervention convey
its message? It used now-common methods for social-
psychological interventions, which, in retrospect,
appear to offer respect and high status (Cohen, Garcia,
& Goyer, 2017; Cohen & Sherman, 2014; Walton, 2014;
Yeager & Walton, 2011). These social-psychological
intervention methods do not tell adolescents what to
do and what not to do, so much as they invite adoles-
cents to discover the meaning of the messages for their
own lives, which honors adolescents’ expectation that
they not be treated like children.
For instance, the Bryan etal. (2016) exposé article
takes the form of a news article that the food industry
does not want consumers to read—giving it an illicit
status. Next, adolescents, after reading the article, read
quotes from irate, high-status older adolescents (e.g.,
high school football players) who previously read the
article and vowed not to eat junk food out of protest.
This capitalizes on the psychology of descriptive
norms—or the notion that individuals may conform to
the choices of relevant others when presented with
consensus information about their behaviors (Cialdini,
2003). Descriptive norms directly influence adolescents’
willingness to conform to behavior, especially when
norms come from high-status peers (see Helms etal.,
2014).
Adolescents were next asked to author a letter to a
future student (i.e., to engage in self-persuasion) in
which participants explained how they planned on
rebelling against the food companies by eating healthy
food and avoiding junk food (for a review of self-
persuasion, see E. Aronson, 1999). First, self-persuasion
respects a person’s potential for personal agency—the
prompts do not say “you have to believe this” but rather
“would you mind choosing to write an argument for
why someone might want to believe this?” (see
Vansteenkiste etal., 2004). Second, self-persuasion
respects a person’s competence—it implies that they
“have wisdom and experience to share with a peer that
we adults may not have,” as opposed to “we know the
facts and you do not.” Third, self-persuasion respects
a person’s purpose and value to the group by allowing
adolescents to engage in a prosocial act of helping
future students learn important information.
Bryan etal. (2016) call the exposé article a “values-
harnessing” treatment. It showed efficacy in an initial,
double-blind, randomized, behavioral experiment with
over 450 eighth-grade students (Bryan etal., 2016). The
evaluation involved two control conditions: a no-
treatment control and a traditional healthy-eating con-
trol that used materials from contemporary government
antiobesity efforts (i.e., http://www.choosemyplate.org)
and appealed to the long-term benefits of eating healthy
(See Table 1). All conditions included self-administered
reading and writing exercises, lasted approximately
30 min, were randomized at the student level, and were
administered in sealed, individualized packets during
class.
The key behavioral outcome was measured the next
day. The principal announced that the entire 8th-grade
class would get a “snack pack” as a reward for good behav-
ior during state testing; students received a menu that had
healthy food options (fruit, nuts, water) and unhealthy
food options (Hot Cheetos, Oreos, Coca-Cola).
The Bryan etal. (2016) values-harnessing treatment
reduced the total sugar content of the selections by 3.6 g,
or 9% (d = .20) compared with the two control condi-
tions, which did not differ. And, more important for the
framework advanced here, a mediational analysis
showed that the values-harnessing treatment caused
adolescents to construe healthy eating as more aligned
with the desire for status and respect. The treatment
increased the social-status appeal of the healthy behav-
ior (“I respect healthy eaters more than unhealthy eat-
ers”), and this mediated the effects of the treatment on
behavior (Fig. 2).
The Bryan etal. (2016) values-harnessing interven-
tion is, of course, not the whole solution to adolescent
obesity. The follow-up was only 1 day after the inter-
vention, and the intervention would mostly likely need
to be coupled with programs to increase the availability
of healthy foods, especially in low-income communi-
ties. Instead, the Bryan etal. (2016) approach is an
early-stage investigation that helps develop theory. It
illustrates one way that adolescents’ prioritization of
status and respect-relevant learning can be harnessed
for positive change. This approach may well prove use-
ful in other domains of health behavior.
Making interactions with adults more
respectful: the case of race disparities
in middle school discipline
The values-harnessing approach tries to make adoles-
cents more aware of how some adults were disrespect-
ing them and then channels the resulting feelings into
positive behavior change. A second approach is to
change the environment and reduce adolescents’ expe-
riences of being disrespected by the adults around
them, which can engender greater adherence with rules
and procedures. Our second case focuses on methods
to address discipline infractions, with particular atten-
tion to disparities in the rates at which Latina/Latino or
African American youths are disciplined compared with
their White or Asian peers (see Carter, Fine, & Russell,
2014; Crenshaw, Ocen, & Nanda, 2015; Losen, 2014;
Okonofua, Walton, & Eberhardt, 2016; Tyler, Goff, &
MacCoun, 2015).
Improving Adolescent Interventions 109
Intuitively, one might expect that school discipline
problems could be solved by creating strong threats to
deter deviant behavior in school (i.e., zero-tolerance
policies; see Table 2, left column). This zero-tolerance
approach, however, has produced very few benefits in
numerous evaluations. In some cases, zero tolerance
has increased racial disparities, perhaps by licensing
authorities to rely on stereotypes when doling out harsh
punishments (American Psychological Association Zero
Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Heitzeg, 2009).
An alternative approach stems from the possibility
that disparities in discipline infractions are due, in part,
to daily experiences of disrespect that come from being
targeted by stigma and stereotypes (Okonofua, Walton,
et al., 2016). When individuals are disrespected by
authorities, they perceive it to be unjust (see Miller,
2001). When individuals perceive injustice, it under-
mines the legitimacy of an institutional authority and
erodes a willingness to comply (see Tyler, 1990).
A potential method to reduce school discipline prob-
lems among adolescents, then, is to make the environ-
ment more respectful (for a related argument in
criminology, see Tyler, 2006). Recall that programs that
implement restorative justice—or the tendency to work
collaboratively with a young person to repair relation-
ships and reputation after an offense, such as through
conferences or victim-offender mediation—were among
the only traditional programs to reduce recidivism in the
juvenile justice system (Gregory, Clawson, Davis, &
Gerewitz, 2014; Schwalbe etal., 2012). Restorative-justice
Values-Harnessing
vs.
Traditional Appeal
Social-Status Appeal
of Healthy Eating
Free Choice of
Junk Food 1 Day
After Intervention
β = .17**
β = –.10*
β = –.07
β = –.16**
Fig. 2. Mediation model showing the effect of values-harnessing versus traditional appeals on the
free choice of junk food 1 day after the intervention, as mediated by the social-status appeal of
health eating (N = 468). On the path from values-harnessing versus traditional appeals to the free
choice of junk food 1 day after the intervention, the values above the arrow are for the uncondi-
tional direct effect (path c), and the values below the arrow are from the model that included the
mediator (i.e., the indirect effect; path c). Asterisks indicate significance of path coefficients (*p <
.05, **p < .001). Figure adapted from Bryan etal. (2016), copyright © 2016 by the National Academy
of Sciences of the United States of America.
Table 2. School Discipline Interventions
Program characteristic Common features of traditional interventions
An approach that increases displays
of respect from authorities
What they say • We have zero tolerance for misbehavior.
Any misbehavior will be met with harsh
punishment.
Punishments for repeat offenses will
escalate.
There is a high standard for behavior and
achievement here.
We believe you have the potential to meet this
standard.
If you make mistakes, it is part of the learning
process.
Here is how we plan to support you as we work
together to meet this high standard.
How they say it Clearly communicating prohibitions (e.g.,
“no fighting” signs on the walls)
Systems for accounting for bad behavior
(e.g., demerit systems, token economies)
Vigilant supervision by in-school police
officers, hall monitors, etc.
Creating a context of respect with multiple adults,
in which adults know students’ core values and
are empathic about underlying causes of behavior
Procedural justice: fair application of rules
Opportunities to learn and grow after mistakes
Note: Common features of traditional interventions are abridged from published descriptions of programs (American Psychological Association
Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008; Heitzeg, 2009).
110 Yeager et al.
interventions honor young people’s ability to self-govern
and they presume their good intentions, perhaps creating
an experience of respect and encouraging rule
following.
In a similar spirit, two studies, which we review in
detail, illustrate how adults might create respectful envi-
ronments in schools and how these environments can
reduce the prevalence of disciplinary infractions. First,
Okonofua, Paunesku, and Walton (2016) evaluated an
intervention for middle school that was designed to
change teachers’ beliefs about discipline—that disci-
pline should be empathic, not zero tolerance. Treated
teachers were encouraged to see students’ subjective
psychologies—students’ “back-stories” for their
misbehavior—and try to find other ways to help students
meet their goals of doing well and being happy in school.
The Okonofua, Walton, etal. (2016) empathy-training
intervention took roughly 30 min for teachers to com-
plete and was evaluated in a randomized trial with
roughly 35 teachers and 1,200 students. Official records
showed that students who took a class with treated
teachers showed half as many suspensions in school
(9% of students vs. 4.5%), and effects generalized
beyond the class with the treated teacher. In results
supporting the model proposed here, previously sus-
pended students reported that their classrooms were
now more respectful when they had a teacher who
completed the empathy intervention. That is, students
responded to greater respect by following school rules
and meriting fewer suspensions (also see Gregory etal.,
2016).
Second, Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal. (2014, 2017)
have tested the hypothesis that an intervention to make
an academic interaction with a teacher feel more
respectful can reduce disciplinary infractions, even
without directly targeting students’ misbehavior or
teachers’ views of students’ misbehavior. Cohen, Steele,
and Ross (1999) developed a technique called wise
feedback (see Goffman, 1963), in which an authority
figure justifies critical feedback on someone’s work with
an appeal to high standards (conveying respect for
one’s competence by setting a high bar), accompanied
by an assurance of one’s potential to reach the high
standards (conveying respect for one’s competence by
implying that one can improve and develop; see Lepper
& Woolverton, 2002; Treisman, 1992; see also research
on natural mentors, Hurd, Sánchez, Zimmerman, &
Caldwell, 2012).
Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, and their colleagues evalu-
ated wise feedback in late middle school using a small-
sample, double-blind field experiment in two
consecutive cohorts of White and African American
youths (Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal., 2014, Yeager,
Purdie-Vaughns, etal., 2017). Students nearing the end
of the 7th grade wrote first-draft essays that were cri-
tiqued by their social studies teachers, all of whom were
White. When essays were returned, they were accom-
panied by randomly assigned notes, handwritten in
advance by their teachers. Half received a control note
(“I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have
feedback on your paper”) and half received a wise-
feedback note (“I’m giving you these comments because
I have very high expectations and I know that you can
reach them”).
Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal. (2014) expected that
wise feedback would be most effective for African
American youths, who, surveys showed, were more
likely than their White peers to have experienced dis-
respect as a result of either negative stereotypes and to
have been subjected to inequitable discipline. The
experiment was replicated across two cohorts in the
same classrooms. In the first cohort (n = 44; Study 1),
relative to the control note, the randomly assigned
wise-feedback note increased African American stu-
dents’ willingness to revise the essay from 17% to 72%
(covariate-adjusted values; Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns,
etal., 2014). In the second cohort (n = 44; Study 2),
the wise-feedback note increased the scores on the
revisions when everyone was required to revise. In both
cohorts, treatment effects were small and nonsignificant
for White students. The wise-feedback note most
strongly changed behavior and feelings of being
respected by teachers in general among those African
American students who, over the previous 2 years, had
felt disrespected—i.e., who repeatedly disagreed that
“teachers and other adults treat me with respect”
(Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal., 2014).
Critically, over a year later, Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns
etal. (2017) found that the wise-feedback note resulted
in a reduction in discipline problems for African Ameri-
can students, even though students had moved on from
the teachers who delivered the wise feedback. That is,
averaging across the two cohorts, African American
students in the group who received the wise-feedback
note in the spring of the 7th grade showed fewer 8th-
grade discipline incidents across all classes, halving the
discipline gap (Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal., 2017).
As in the short-term results, there were no benefits for
White students, who were also far less likely to be
disciplined (see Fig. 3).
The studies by Okonofua, Paunesku, et al. (2016)
and Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal. (2017) illustrate a
few points about adolescent behavior change. First, it
is not always necessary to stoke the fire of reactance
to achieve adolescent behavior change, as was done in
the values-harnessing healthy-eating treatment (Bryan
etal., 2016) or the truth campaign (Farrelly etal., 2005).
A credible show of dignity and respect, during a period
Improving Adolescent Interventions 111
of status sensitivity, dampened adolescents’ feelings of
being disrespected by authorities.
Second, the research in this section highlights the
importance of relationships with adults, not only peers
(see also research on natural mentors; Hurd et al.,
2012). Some research has rightly emphasized adoles-
cents’ heightened concern with peers (Chein, Albert,
O’Brien, Uckert, & Steinberg, 2011; Crosnoe & McNeely,
2008; Larson & Richards, 1991) and adolescents’ ten-
dency to ignore adults’ requests to change behavior
(Lee etal., 2014). However, adolescents also value the
opinions of respected adults and willingly comply
under the right conditions (Engelmann, Moore, Capra,
& Berns, 2012). Said another way, going through the
peer group is not the only way to improve adolescent
behavior. Relationships with valued adults can be trans-
formative for young people as well (see also Allen,
Moore, & Kuperminc, 1997).
Lessening the influence of status and
respect threats: the case of high school
aggression
Sometimes it will not be possible to use these first two
methods (harnessing values or changing environments),
and so a third approach may be useful: lessening the
influence of threats to status and respect by changing
mind-sets. Adolescents should not be oblivious to social
threats, of course, but they may benefit from perceiving
the threats as less definitive. We illustrate this third
approach in the context of high school aggression—an
area in which, as noted, it has been difficult to identify
programs that show average benefits for middle adoles-
cents (Yeager etal., 2015; see also Table 3, left column).
Our analysis starts with the observation that the threat
of losing status or being disrespected may be more
influential when it feels diagnostic of a lasting future as
a lonely, isolated, dominated, or low-status person. From
the perspective of a new high school student, being left
out of a party or ridiculed on social media might not be
only a temporary inconvenience. It could seem to mean
that you will have no friends or will be ridiculed for the
4 years of high school and beyond.
Our research has shown that adolescents’ beliefs that
people’s socially relevant traits and labels are fixed and
unchangeable—called an entity theory of personality
can predict whether social difficulty makes one feel
permanently disrespected (see Yeager, 2017; Yeager &
Dweck, 2012; also see Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995;
Erdley & Dweck, 1993; Heyman & Dweck, 1998). For
example, studies have found that a survey measure of
an entity theory of personality predicts adolescents’
responses to social adversity. Research participants
reporting more endorsement of an entity theory also
reported greater shame and humiliation when they
imagined being excluded or made fun of (Yeager,
Trzesniewski, Tirri, Nokelainen, & Dweck, 2011).
Fortunately, teaching the belief that traits and labels
are malleable and have the potential to change—called
an incremental theory of personality—lessens the influ-
ence of social conflict (Yeager, 2017; Yeager, Johnson,
et al., 2014; Yeager, Miu, Powers, & Dweck, 2013;
Yeager etal., 2011). Interventions involving incremental
theories of personality demonstrate that implicit theo-
ries have a causal impact on coping with status and
respect threats. Incremental theory interventions teach
that people have the potential to change—that if bad
things happen, you are not stuck having a low-status
label forever (e.g., as a “loser” or a “victim”). This dif-
ferent worldview can alter the meaning of social events
and what emotions social events elicit (Yeager etal.,
2011).
Experiments have found that teaching an incremental
theory can improve adolescent coping after status and
respect threats. An incremental-theory-of-personality
intervention—for example, the Cyberball exclusion
(Yeager, Johnson, etal., 2014) or the TSST (Yeager, Lee,
& Jamieson, 2016)—has reduced self-reported stress,
anxiety, and feelings of threat after negative social
evaluation experience that occurred moments after the
intervention. As one example, when high school stu-
dents were asked to give a speech about what makes
teenagers popular, in front of judgmental, older peers,
0
1
2
3
4
White Students African American
Students
Number of 8th-Grade Discipline Incidents
Control-Note Condition
Wise-Feedback-Note Condition
Fig. 3. The relationship between number of 8th-grade discipline
incidents for White students and African American students, displayed
separately for students in the control-note condition and students in
the wise-feedback-note condition (N = 88). The students were given
the notes in the spring of their 7th-grade year, and 8th-grade disci-
pline incidents were calculated 1 year later. Data are from Yeager,
Purdie-Vaughns, Hooper, and Cohen (2017).
112 Yeager et al.
those who received the incremental-theory intervention
(i.e., the TSST) showed reduced threat-related cardio-
vascular responses (lower total peripheral resistance
and higher stroke volume) and hypothalamic-pituitary-
adrenal-axis reactivity (lower cortisol; Yeager, Lee, &
Jamieson, 2016). Similar findings appeared in a study
of adolescents with elevated internalizing symptoms
(Schleider & Weisz, 2016). Moreover, an incremental-
theory intervention reduced high school students’
salivary cortisol 1 week later, especially on days when
they reported social-evaluative threats (Yeager, Lee, &
Jamieson, 2016).
More directly relevant to our model, incremental-
theory interventions have reduced aggressive retalia-
tion. In one field experiment conducted by Yeager,
Trzesniewski, and Dweck (2013), facilitators taught the
incremental theory of personality through six classroom
workshops that used autonomy-supportive language,
opportunities for self-persuasion, and capitalizing on
descriptive norms (stories from upper classmen who
found the messages helpful; see Walton, 2014). In a
double-blind field trial conducted in 9th- and 10th-
grade classrooms, the incremental-theory intervention
was compared with a traditional coping-skills interven-
tion that taught the best available content (analogous
to interventions meta-analyzed by Durlak etal., 2011)
and with a no-treatment control.
In the Yeager, Trzesniewski, etal. (2013) experiment,
the coping-skills control group did not try to lessen the
influence of a status or respect threat by changing its
meaning. Instead, like many traditional interventions
reviewed earlier, the coping-skills control emphasized
the need to think positively and not overgeneralize from
one bad event to one’s life in general. These messages
were delivered in a respectful way, however—including
using descriptive social norms, autonomy-supportive
practices, and self-persuasion. The control group’s
developmentally attuned delivery mechanism allowed
for an unconfounded test of the impact of the message
and its delivery.
At 1-month follow-up, adolescents in the Yeager,
Trzesniewski, etal. (2013) experiment responded to a
threat to peer status and respect: exclusion in a Cyberball
game (Williams & Jarvis, 2006; Williams, Yeager, Cheung,
& Choi, 2012). Aggression was measured by allowing
participants to allocate unpleasantly spicy hot sauce to
a peer who had just excluded them. Adolescent partici-
pants (temporarily) believed that the peer disliked hot
sauce and would have to consume the entire sample
(see Lieberman, Solomon, Greenberg, & McGregor,
1999). (Participants were debriefed afterward.)
Adolescents who received the traditional coping-
skills intervention did not allocate any less hot sauce
(i.e., were not any less aggressive) compared with the
no-treatment control group (Fig. 4). What adolescents
in the coping-skills group learned was not relevant to
the meaning of a peer status or respect threat, and so
it did not change aggressive retaliation (see Yeager
etal., 2015). Inert content, even when delivered in a
respectful way, should not change behavior.
Meanwhile, adolescents who received the incremental-
theory-of-personality intervention allocated 40% less
hot sauce (representing less aggressive retaliation) than
did the adolescents in the combined coping-skills and
no-treatment control groups (Yeager, Trzesniewski,
etal., 2013; Fig. 4). The benefits of the intervention for
aggressive behavior were confirmed 3 months after the
intervention, when teachers (blind to condition) were
Table 3. Interventions to Reduce High School Aggression
Program characteristic Common features of traditional interventions
An intervention that lessens the influence of a threat
to status or respect
What they say Bullying and aggression are not allowed.
You should not be mean, call people
names, hit people, exclude people, or
start rumors about people.
If those things happen to you, you should
think positively and use positive coping
skills.
People have the potential to change themselves or
their social places in life.
Therefore people are not stuck being one kind of
person—a loser or a bully.
How they say it • Classroom lectures from teachers
• Online activities to reinforce the message
• Whole-school assemblies
• Token economies for good behavior
• Skits and role plays
Parent training, so kids get the message
at home
• Homework
Stories of formerly aggressive people or shy people
who learned other ways to be
Scientific evidence for how this was possible,
drawing on neuroscience and field experimentation
Stories from peers who found this information
helpful
• Self-persuasion writing exercises
Note: Common features of traditional interventions are abridged from descriptions of programs in past meta-analyses (e.g., Yeager, Fong, Lee, &
Espelage, 2015).
Improving Adolescent Interventions 113
more likely to nominate treated students as having
improved their behavior compared with the students
from the combined control groups (Yeager, Trzesniewski,
etal., 2013).
Interventions involving implicit theories of personal-
ity can change the meaning of status and respect threats
and thereby lessen the impact of such threats. This
approach can be useful in reducing important and
undesirable responses to status threats, such as aggres-
sion. More generally, it is not always necessary or advis-
able that interventions only help adolescents “win the
status game.” Sometimes it is desirable to help adoles-
cents feel as though they do not have to play the status
game so vigorously.
Is shorter always better?
The effective interventions highlighted here usually
required less time from participants than traditional
interventions. This could be important to their effective-
ness. Stice and his colleagues found in two meta-
analyses that shorter interventions had stronger effects
(Stice etal., 2006, 2009). Perhaps shorter interventions
have an easier time maintaining treatment fidelity, or
perhaps shorter interventions are less likely to imply
to recipients that they are viewed by adults as lacking
in competence.
And yet our model does not require shorter interven-
tions; longer interventions can be attuned to status and
respect. For instance, in past studies, intervention
designers have created multisession educational work-
shops that involve a high-social-status “brand,” endorsed
by influential peers, in support of the targeted behavior.
This has reduced teen smoking and bullying (compare
Biglan, Ary, Smolkowski, Duncan, & Black, 2000, and
Gordon, Biglan, & Smolkowski, 2008; for an example
with antibullying program, see Paluck, Shepherd, &
Aronow, 2016). Programs have also respected adoles-
cents’ autonomy and desire to “matter” to others by
wrapping psychoeducational content in a relatively
long volunteer service program (i.e., the Teen Outreach
Program; Allen, Philliber, Herrling, & Kuperminc, 1997).
This program reduced female teen pregnancy from
9.8% to 4.2%, reduced suspensions from 29% to 13%,
and reduced course failure rates from 47% to 27%.2
One multisession intervention, called Becoming a
Man (BAM), reduced youth violence. Instead of being
didactic, BAM used a democratic discussion group (see
also Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939) that focused on
finding ways besides violence to maintain high status
and peer respect, and it did so without adults “tell[ing]
youth the ‘right’ thing to do” (Heller etal., 2015, p. 6).
In Chicago, Illinois, BAM reduced arrests among youths
of color by 28% to 35% and violent crime by 45% to
50%, and it increased high school graduation by 12%
to 19% at long-term follow-up (Heller etal., 2015). In
general, programs that reduce aggression by offering
adolescents the opportunity to take on meaningful roles
in their communities (e.g., Ellis, Volk, Gonzalez, &
Embry, 2016) exemplify many of the principles we have
tried to summarize here because they honor adoles-
cents’ sensitivity to experiences of status and respect.
Discussion
We have argued that traditional interventions sometimes
work against adolescents’ prioritization of experiences
of status and respect, in terms of both what those inter-
ventions say and how they say it (Tables 1–3). Yet
adolescents’ heightened sensitivity to feelings of status
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
No-Treatment Control Traditional Coping-
Skills Intervention
Incremental-Theory-of-
Personality
Intervention
Hot Sauce Allocated to Peer
Who Excluded Participant (grams)
Experimental Condition
High School Students’ Aggression 1 Month After Treatment
Fig. 4. Changing the meaning of a threat to status/respect reduced aggression for high
school adolescents, whereas a traditional antiaggression intervention that taught coping
skills did not. Bars represent 1 standard error of the mean.
Source: Yeager, Trzesniewski, and Dweck (2013).
114 Yeager et al.
and respect need not thwart adult-delivered interven-
tions. Effective interventions work with those sensitivi-
ties and can inspire internalized behavior change.
Our perspective resonates with the Lewinian tension-
system approach to behavior change (Lewin, 1952).
Like Lewin, we emphasize that sometimes it can be
easier to achieve behavior change by taking advantage
of motives people already have rather than trying to
convince them to have a different source of motivation.
In adolescence, effective interventions can align the
long-term, healthy choice with short-term feelings of
status and respect rather than try to make adolescents
care about long-term health more than short-term social
success.
Our recommendation is consistent with the argu-
ments of many scholars in educational psychology
(Eccles, Lord, & Midgley, 1991), developmental neuro-
science (Blakemore & Mills, 2014; Crone & Dahl, 2012;
Steinberg, 2014; Telzer, 2016), social psychology
(Walton, 2014; Wilson, 2011), sociology (Coleman,
1961; Crosnoe, 2011), evolutionary psychology (Ellis
et al., 2012), and community psychology (Watts &
Flanagan, 2007), who have emphasized the importance
of adolescents’ social success for motivation and behav-
ior change. What the present analysis adds is an inte-
gration of the relevant developmental science of
adolescence with the behavioral evidence emerging
from intervention experiments.
We have limited ourselves to universal, school-based
preventative interventions in three problem areas—
unhealthy snacking, school discipline, and peer aggres-
sion. However, it will be important to test which aspects
of our model apply to other domains. Could direct
efforts at status and respect enhancement improve aca-
demic motivation? Could it enhance compliance with
medical treatments? We are excited to find out.
We are not arguing that adult-delivered interventions
represent the only method for influencing adolescent
behavior. There is clearly promise in peer networks
(e.g., Paluck etal., 2016) or “nudges” that bypass inten-
tional deliberation or habit (e.g., Hanks, Just, Smith, &
Wansink, 2012). Furthermore, in some cases, policies
that constrain adolescents’ freedoms—such as those
regarding age-graded driver’s licenses—can prevent
death and injury (see Steinberg, 2015).
Yet the model we present here suggests that it would
be premature to give up on adult-delivered, school-
based universal prevention. Such interventions can play
a role in positive youth development, and the alterna-
tives have limitations of their own. Intervening by lever-
aging peer social networks can have unpredictable or
even harmful effects if it causes peers’ deviant behavior
to become more “contagious” (see Valente etal., 2007,
who found that a social network-based intervention
increased cocaine use among students who had drug-
using peers; see also Helms etal., 2014). “Nudge” strate-
gies are not designed for situations in which one cannot
control the relevant environmental cues shaping behav-
ior—as is the case for many of the free-choice behaviors
discussed here. Laws that take away rights might pre-
vent risky behavior in the short term, but one must
always consider how such laws might deprive youths
of opportunities for learning how to be independent
and autonomous in the long term, which might slow
the transition from child status to adult status in society
(for a philosophical discussion of this issue, see
Schapiro, 1999).
Nevertheless, we agree with the commentators who
have challenged the field’s prevailing intuitions about
the traditional education and skills-based approach to
intervention. Our hope is that the present model
encourages mechanism-focused research on improved
means for creating internalized, lasting positive behav-
ior change for adolescents by supplementing (but not
replacing) social networks, nudges, and wiser laws.
Next, we outline several ways that developmental sci-
ence can push the present framework forward.
From initial motivation to sustained
behavior change
The model presented here has not yet established the
feedback loops through which an intervention that hon-
ors the adolescent desire for status and respect might
translate into sustained, internalized changes in behav-
ior (however, see Fig. 1 in both Yeager, 2017, and
Yeager, Purdie-Vaughns, etal., 2017). The question of
how time-limited interventions can sustain impact is an
emerging topic of investigation in the social and behav-
ioral sciences more generally (Bailey, Duncan, Odgers,
& Yu, 2017; Fiske, Frey, & Rogers, 2014; Miller, Dannals,
& Zlatev, 2017)
The present analysis can contribute to this discussion
in two ways. First, we speculate that feelings of respect
and status could serve as a gateway to the self—a view
that “I am now the kind of person who does this behav-
ior because it makes me feel the way I want to feel”—
and therefore create internalization and maintenance
of change (see Gerrard, Gibbons, Houlihan, Stock, &
Pomery, 2008; also see McAdams & Olson, 2010;
Oyserman & Destin, 2010).
Second, initial behavior changes, if timely, can open
channels into different social environments or formal
structures (for a related perspective, see Bailey etal.,
2017; Cohen etal., 2017). A seemingly small initial
behavior might alter relations with teachers or peers or
involvement with extracurricular activities, which might
encourage the behavior further. An initial change in
Improving Adolescent Interventions 115
motivation could place one in institutional pathways
(e.g., taking advanced courses or participating in out-
of-school activities) that create access to adult mentors
or other beneficial resources (for an example in sociol-
ogy, see Frank etal., 2008). Extending the model pre-
sented here and explicitly testing the processes for
sustained change—both within the person and between
the person and the affordances in the environment—
represents an exciting area for innovation.
Advancing a perspective on
interventions that is rooted in
developmental science
Future studies can test developmental mechanisms for
the differences in responsiveness to the interventions
described here. We have focused on the rough labels
of “middle adolescence” or “childhood” and considered
chronological age or grade level as predictors of devel-
opmental trends because of the state of the evidence.
As noted, however, chronological age is imprecise. In
fact, anthropological studies of adolescence largely
ignore chronological age and focus instead on the mile-
stones of pubertal maturation and adult role acquisition
(e.g., Schlegel & Barry, 1991).
A falsifiable prediction that follows from our frame-
work is that pubertal maturation (in particular, gonad-
arche) and levels of testosterone (or estradiol, or a
combination of these and other pubertal hormones)
will moderate responsiveness to traditional interven-
tions (see Yeager, Hirschi, & Josephs, 2017). That is, if
pubertal maturation causes an increased coupling of
motivation to change and experiences relevant to status
and respect, as a result of changes in testosterone and
the associated reward-learning systems in the brain,
then individuals who show advances in the gonadal
aspects of puberty or who have higher testosterone
levels should be more strongly resistant to traditional
programs that threaten status or respect. Chronological
age, indicators of adrenarche, or DHEA, meanwhile,
may be less consistent predictors of variability in treat-
ment impacts, especially during ages with great vari-
ability in pubertal timing and tempo. We look forward
to explicit tests that either confirm or falsify these
predictions.
Our predictions are less clear for status-sensitive
interventions. On the one hand, individuals who are
more gonadally mature and have higher testosterone
levels might show greater responsiveness to status-
sensitive approaches such as values harnessing (con-
sistent with the findings with adults reported in Yeager,
Hirschi, & Josephs, 2017). On the other hand, early
adolescence (often ages 10–13) may prove to be an
opportune stage for creating enduring change via
status-sensitive interventions. Perhaps early adolescents
could be taught the notion that healthy behavior con-
veys high status, and this association might be intensi-
fied by pubertal maturation.
Comparisons with children and adults
We are not arguing that status and respect matter only
to adolescents and do not matter for children or adults.
Even young children can be attuned to status (Rizzo &
Killen, 2016), and both children and adults are moti-
vated by the opportunity for self-determination (see
Ryan & Deci, 2000). Instead, we argue that during mid-
dle adolescence, three things come together: a new
meaning of taking away choice or undermining com-
petence (which violates status and respect), the high
likelihood of being treated like a child (which violates
status and respect), and the motivational prioritization
of feelings related to status and respect.
Many of the universal preventative interventions we
discuss here may also simply be less relevant at later
ages. Problem behaviors have often already begun—or
not—by middle adolescence. For instance, almost no
one starts smoking for the first time as an adult, and
the wages of adults who earn a GED do not match
those of peers with an on-time high school diploma
(Heckman etal., 2014). Once the school-to-prison pipe-
line has given one a criminal record or exposed one to
deviant peers, the damage is difficult to undo (Heitzeg,
2009).
Furthermore, universal interventions can be easier
to deliver during middle adolescence. Before age 17,
young people are required by law to be in school, so
societies can give beneficial messages to almost entire
cohorts of young people. Hence, even if the psycho-
logical processes described here remain present in
adulthood, it is still critical to study them among
adolescents.
Program evaluation research
Last, we see many opportunities for the proposed
model to inform program evaluation research. For
decades, researchers have focused primarily on whether
a program evaluated in a randomized, controlled trial
shows main effects. Yet, as null treatment effects of
interventions have become more the rule than the
exception, researchers have begun to prioritize the
study of treatment heterogeneity, defined as the dif-
ferential effectiveness of interventions across individu-
als, contexts, or program implementations (Bryk, 2009;
Gelman, 2015; Hulleman & Cordray, 2009; Weiss,
Bloom, & Brock, 2014). Might students’ reports of
whether the program made them feel respected predict
116 Yeager et al.
heterogeneity in intervention effect sizes? Future evalu-
ations studies could find out.
Conclusion
Our perspective has been that when adults honor ado-
lescents’ sensitivity to feelings of high status and being
respected, we may find that adolescents show far
greater self-regulation, ability to think about the future,
and capacity to change than we imagined. The present
article provides the beginning of a roadmap for tapping
into this powerful source of motivation—one that might
result in improvements to both developmental science
and societal welfare.
Acknowledgments
This research benefitted from conversations with or feedback
from Kenneth Barron, Christopher Bryan, Charles Carver,
Geoffrey Cohen, Robert Crosnoe, Christopher Hulleman,
Jenann Ismael, Robert Josephs, Margaret Levi, Todd Rogers,
Daniel Schwartz and the Schwartz Lab, Ahna Suleiman,
Sander Thomaes, Gregory Walton, Timothy Wilson, Zoe
Stemm-Calderon, the Social-Personality and Developmental
areas at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Clinical
Excellence Research Center at Stanford University.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Funding
This work was supported by the Raikes Foundation, the Wil-
liam T. Grant Foundation, National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development Grants R01-HD084772 (to D. S.
Yeager) and P2C-HD042849 (to the Population Research Cen-
ter at The University of Texas at Austin), and a fellowship
from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sci-
ences (CASBS). The content does not necessarily represent
the official view of the National Institutes of Health.
Notes
1. The average effect size for universal interventions was not
reported in the article by Stice etal. (2009), but we calculated
a weighted average using the effect sizes in their Table 4. Stice
etal. (2009) also reported a between-study metaregression for
age that was not relevant because it combined indicated (i.e.,
for at-risk youths) and universal interventions; our interest was
in universal interventions. In that metaregression, they found a
positive effect of age (p. 498), but it was driven by the college-
student studies, which were only indicated and not universal.
2. Attempts to replicate the Teen Outreach Program have met
with mixed results (Francis etal., 2016). In four of the five rep-
lications, the control group received key features of the treat-
ment; in the one replication in which this was not true, the Teen
Outreach Program benefits were replicated.
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... to do and what not to believe. In fact, such efforts may backfire (Yeager et al., 2018). To be effective, interventions for adolescents must target specific psychological processes (Walton, 2014) and afford status and respect (Yeager et al., 2018). ...
... In fact, such efforts may backfire (Yeager et al., 2018). To be effective, interventions for adolescents must target specific psychological processes (Walton, 2014) and afford status and respect (Yeager et al., 2018). As we'll see, some of the most effective interventions may not even seem like interventions at all to the kids who benefit from them (Walton & Wilson, 2018). ...
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The stories we tell can shape our lives and our experiences. Unfortunately, many African American adolescents are often subjected to stereotypes and one-sided deficit narratives that can become self-fulfilling prophecies undermining their achievement, aspirations, and well-being. However, the college admission process offers an intervention opportunity to help these students tell a different story—their story. In this paper, the author presents an analysis of the threats and opportunities inherent in the college-admission process and a literature review on topics aligned to three pillars—beliefs, belonging, and becoming. The paper concludes with the application plan for an intervention that leverages the college admission essay and essay-writing process to reframe beliefs and shape positive personal narratives. Inspired by research from narrative psychology, social psychology, and positive psychology, OurStory challenges dominant deficit narratives and aims to improve academic outcomes, college matriculation rates, and adolescent flourishing and well-being.
... Adolescents, trying to find themselves and beginning to shape their personality, want to be more effective in decisions about their lives and friends, and this situation makes conflict with parents acting with the instinct of protecting their children inevitable (2). Unlike childhood, adolescents react more to a social threat, have more conflicts with adults, want more acceptance and respect among their peers (3). Moreover, there is a significant increase in risky behaviors such as alcohol intake, smoking, drug abuse, theft, bullying, the tendency to physical violence, damage to property, and attempted suicide during adolescence (4). ...
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Objective:Evaluation of children and adolescents pushed to crime should be different from adult offenders. In this study, it is aimed to analyze the qualities of children and adolescents pushed to crime and to discuss them in the light of the literature.Methods:Children who were evaluated in terms of criminal liability at Bolu Abant İzzet Baysal University Faculty of Medicine Department of Forensic Medicine and Bolu Forensic Medicine Branch Office between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018 were included in the study.Results:A total of 237 children and adolescents were included in the study. Of the cases, 76.8% (n=182) were male and 23.2% (n=55) were female. The mean age was 13.38±0.83. Of the cases, 80.6% were living in the nuclear family. Twenty-two cases (9.3%) were working in any job and sixty-four (27%) of the cases had one or more substance use history. Of the cases, 47.7% committed deliberate wounding crimes whereas 20.3% of cases committed burglary crimes. One hundred and fifty two cases (64.1%) committed a crime for the first time. One hundred and ten (46.4%) cases committed the crime together with a group of friends. Forty-seven cases (19.8%) had a psychiatric disorder. In 60.8% of the cases (n=144), it was reported that they had criminal responsibility.Conclusion:It is necessary to increase the number of child support centers and to develop effective intervention methods for juveniles pushed to crime in these centers, and more studies should be conducted on these issues.
... For example, adolescents have been associated with greater levels of consumerism (Passini, 2013) and materialism (Flurry et al., 2021), and it has been found that episodes of CPV often occur in contexts in which children ask their parents for money and the parents refuse (Calvete et al., 2015d). Second, adolescence is a developmental stage characterized by the desire for autonomy from adults and rebelliousness when young people perceive that parents are attempting to impose behavioral norms on them (Yeager et al., 2018). Some items included in the CPAQ can be considered as manifestations of this rebelliousness characteristic of adolescence, which explains the high percentage of adolescents who indicate that they have engaged in these behaviors. ...
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... Such a meta-theory leads to theories of mindfulness that conceptualize it first and foremost as an intergenerational social practice-as something being worked out with other people, in specific settings, through language and gesture, intergenerational relationships and joint activity around cultural practices (e.g., meditation, service), over a sustained period of time in the lifespan. Here, notions like the "fit" between the developmental and cultural needs of children and adolescents, and these kinds of programs and practices, become focal, as do related issues of motivation and engagement on the part of students to engage with such programs and practices (e.g., Walton & Yeager, 2020;Yeager et al., 2018). ...
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... Despite numerous efforts, however, recent indicators show that adolescents still have very limited access to FP services. 3,5,6 This raises the question of whether FP services are available and accessible to all categories of adolescents. Indeed, studies reveal that in reality many health facilities do not offer FP services to unmarried adolescents, thereby depriving them of the same access to services as their married counterparts. ...
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... Supporting this logic, Eskreis-Winkler (2015) showed that students and adults who provide advice on deliberate practice to others demonstrate increased persistence and improved performance on challenging tasks relative to those who simply receive advice. Similarly, mindset intervention studies suggest that teaching others that the brain can grow is an effective way to foster a growth mindset in oneself (Yeager et al. 2018). Thus, helping teachers advocate for the value of persistence and growth appraisals in the face of challenges can help them to develop this important resource. ...
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Frustration is a common emotional experience in teachers’ lives. Despite its ubiquity, frustration in the classroom has been largely ignored as a focus of study in modern emotion and motivation research. In this study, we bring together an interdisciplinary body of work to stimulate renewed interest in the study of frustration pertaining to teachers and their students. First, we discuss common sources of frustration and explain why even minor frustrations discourage goal attainment. Then, we present recommendations for ways in which teachers can reduce the occurrence of this common yet understudied emotion through empathy, simplification, and reappraisal. We conclude by discussing the personal attributes that teachers draw upon to overcome frustration and highlighting additional open questions and areas of future studies.
... From the participant's perspective, the content, context, and quality of care may contribute to acceptability [28]. Intervention acceptability studies are critical because interventions have higher uptake and effectiveness if adolescents find them acceptable [28,29]. A recent systematic review of peerreviewed studies (published between January 2010 and June 2020) assessing intervention acceptability with youth (aged [10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24] in Africa mainly included studies focused on HIV or sexual and reproductive health outcomes [27]. ...
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Approximately 160 million children work as child laborers globally, 39% of whom are female. Ghana is one of the countries with the highest rates of child labor. Child labor has serious health, mental health, and educational consequences, and those who migrate independently for child labor are even at higher risk. Yet, evidence-based efforts to prevent unaccompanied child migration are limited. In this study, we examined the acceptability of a family-level intervention, called ANZANSI (resilience in local language) combining two evidence-based interventions, a family economic empowerment intervention and a multiple family group family strengthening intervention, to reduce the risk factors associated with the independent migration of adolescent girls from the Northern region to big cities in Ghana. We conducted semi-structured interviews separately with 20 adolescent girls and their caregivers who participated in ANZANSI. Interviews were conducted in the local language and transcribed and translated verbatim. Informed by the theoretical framework of acceptability, the data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The results showed high intervention acceptability among both adolescent girls and their caregivers, including low burden, positive affective attitude, high perceived effectiveness, low opportunity costs, and high self-efficacy. The study findings underline the high need for such interventions in low-resource contexts in Ghana and provide the foundation for testing this intervention in a larger randomized trial.
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Adolescents face many factors that can contribute to adolescent substance use. The literature highlights key biological, social-cultural, peer, and familial-factors associated with adolescent substance use. However, one of the assets is the personal and community-level aspects of religiosity, especially given that most American families still identify as religious. Given there is a significant emphasis on prevention and early intervention, these programs can be embedded into the community in spaces where families with adolescents are already in. For example, community-level religiosity within the context of positive community is essential for promoting health and resilience, despite the many stressors encountered. Therefore, religious organizations can promote health and preventing and reducing adolescent substance use.
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This research tested a social-developmental process model of trust discernment. From sixth to eighth grade, White and African American students were surveyed twice yearly (ages 11–14; Study 1, N = 277). African American students were more aware of racial bias in school disciplinary decisions, and as this awareness grew it predicted a loss of trust in school, leading to a large trust gap in seventh grade. Loss of trust by spring of seventh grade predicted African Americans’ subsequent discipline infractions and 4-year college enrollment. Causality was confirmed with a trust-restoring “wise feedback” treatment delivered in spring of seventh grade that improved African Americans’ eighth-grade discipline and college outcomes. Correlational findings were replicated with Latino and White students (ages 11–14; Study 2, N = 206).
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Laboratory experiments investigating aggressive behavior have operationalized and assessed aggression in a variety of ways; however, these measures are often problematic because they do not create a situation in which participants perceive potential for real harm to come to the target, there is a risk of actual harm to the target, or they are too familiar to participants. To overcome these limitations, we developed a new method for measuring aggression, specifically, the amount of hot sauce administered to a target known to dislike spicy foods. We summarize a series of experiments assessing theory‐based hypotheses regarding aggression in which this measure is employed. We then briefly consider the strengths and limitations of this new measure. Aggr. Behav. 25:331–348, 1999. © 1999 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
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We argue that psychologists who conduct experiments with long lags between the manipulation and the outcome measure should pay more attention to behavioral processes that intervene between the manipulation and the outcome measure. Neglect of such processes, we contend, stems from psychology’s long tradition of short-lag lab experiments where there is little scope for intervening behavioral processes. Studying process in the lab invariably involves studying psychological processes, but in long-lag field experiments it is important to study causally relevant behavioral processes as well as psychological ones. To illustrate the roles that behavioral processes can play in long-lag experiments we examine field experiments motivated by three policy-relevant goals: prejudice reduction, health promotion, and educational achievement. In each of the experiments discussed we identify various behavioral pathways through which the manipulated psychological state could have produced the observed outcome. We argue that if psychologists conducting long-lag interventions posited a theory of change that linked manipulated psychological states to outcomes via behavioral pathways, the result would be richer theory and more practically useful research. Movement in this direction would also permit more opportunities for productive collaborations between psychologists and other social scientists interested in similar social problems.
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