May 31, 2012


This brief social belonging intervention aims to promote a view of social setbacks as non-threatening in order to improve well-being. During the intervention, college freshmen read a report, write an essay, and read a speech that presents social adversity as something that is common and temporary during the transition to college. The activities emphasize that social adversity is not due to flaws in the individual or their ethnic group. An experimental evaluation found that the intervention had positive impacts for African American students on uncertainty about social belonging, self-doubt, happiness, health, and GPA.


Target Population: Racial minority students adjusting to college

This intervention aims to convince students to view social setbacks or feelings of isolation in a non-threatening way since their interpretations of relationships can impact well-being. The intervention presents the message that concerns about belonging are common among students adjusting to college, but that they are temporary. Students first read a report that indicates that most students at their school worried about belonging in college during their freshman year, but that those feelings decreased over time. The report also stated that this was true across gender and ethnic groups. Next students write an essay describing how their own experiences are similar to those in the report. They then turn this into a speech and read it for a video recording that they are told will be shown to future students to help them transition to college. The intervention occurs in one 1-hour session.


Evaluated population: Ninety-two students in the second semester of their freshman year in college participated in the study. Forty-three were European American, and 49 were African American.

Approach: Participants were randomly assigned to the intervention or a control condition. Data on GPA were collected from transcripts through three years after the intervention. At the three-year follow-up, data were collected on uncertainty about social belonging, self-reported health, doctor visits in the past 3 months, happiness, and how accessible negative racial stereotypes and self-doubt were in participants’ minds.

Results: GPA increased over time for African Americans in the intervention compared with African Americans in the control condition. There was no impact on GPA for European Americans. African Americans in the intervention reported greater decreases in belonging uncertainty, accessibility of negative racial stereotypes, and accessibility of self-doubt at the three-year follow-up compared with African Americans in the control condition. African Americans in the intervention had greater increases in self-reported health and happiness and fewer doctor visits compared with African Americans in the control condition. Impacts for these outcomes on European Americans were not found.



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

Youth, Young Adults, College, Males and Females, Black/African American, School-based, Academic Achievement/Grades, Other Physical Health, Other Social/Emotional Health

Program information last updated on 5/31/12.