Teaching teens that people have the potential to change can reduce aggressive reactions in peer conflicts, according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin. The study, published in the February 2013 issue of Child Development, has important implications for bullying interventions in public schools.
“When adolescents believe the world is full of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, with nobody in between, they are then quick to classify people as one or the other,” says David Yeager, assistant professor of developmental psychology. He says that even after a minor offense, teens with this ‘fixed’ mindset relegate peers to the ‘bad person’ group and want aggressive revenge.
Yeager and a team of researchers from Emory University and Stanford University conducted eight studies with more than 1,600 eighth- through 10th-graders of different races and ethnicities in wealthy and low-income schools across the United States.
The researchers developed and tested a brief intervention that taught the teens about the potential for change in people. Students read an article about the plasticity of the brain, read notes from older students describing how people are capable of change, and then wrote notes to future students on this topic to make the message stick. The teens were then asked to respond to a hypothetical offense. The intervention reduced the respondents’ desire for aggressive revenge even eight months after they took part in the study.