Developmental Stage

Publication Type

Suspensions remove students from the learning environment at high rates throughout the United States. Policy and theory highlight social groups that face disproportionately high suspension rates—racial-minoritized students, students with a prior suspension, and students with disabilities. We used an active placebo-controlled, longitudinal field experiment (Nteachers = 66, Nstudents = 5822) to test a scalable “empathic-mindset” intervention, a 45- to 70-min online exercise to refocus middle school teachers on understanding and valuing the perspectives of students and on sustaining positive relationships even when students misbehave. In preregistered analyses, this exercise reduced suspension rates especially for Black and Hispanic students, cutting the racial disparity over the school year from 10.6 to 5.9 percentage points, a 45% reduction. Significant reductions were also observed for other groups of concern. Moreover, reductions persisted through the next year when students interacted with different teachers, suggesting that empathic treatment with even one teacher in a critical period can improve students’ trajectories through school.

High rates of discipline citations predict adverse life outcomes, a harm disproportionately borne by Black and Latino boys. We hypothesized that these citations arise in part from negative cycles of interaction between students and teachers, which unfold in contexts of social stereotypes. Can targeted interventions to facilitate identity safety—a sense of belonging, inclusion, and growth—for students help? Experiment 1 combined social-belonging, values-affirmation, and growth-mindset interventions delivered in several class sessions in 2 middle schools with a large Latino population (N = 669). This treatment reduced citations among negatively stereotyped boys in 7th and 8th grades by 57% as compared with a randomized control condition. A growth-mindset only treatment was also effective. Experiment 2 tested the social-belonging intervention alone, a grade earlier, at a third school with a large Black population and more overall citations (N = 137 sixth-grade students). In 2 class sessions, students reflected on stories from previous 7th-grade students, which represented worries about belonging and relationships with teachers early in middle school as normal and as improving with time. This exercise reduced citations among Black boys through the end of high school by 65%. Suggesting improved interactions with teachers, longitudinal analyses found that the intervention prevented rises in citations involving subjective judgments (e.g., “insubordination”) within 6th and 7th grades. It also forestalled the emergence of worries about being seen stereotypically by the end of 7th grade. Identity threat can give rise to cycles of interaction that are maladaptive for both teachers and students in school; targeted exercises can interrupt these cycles to improve disciplinary outcomes over years.

Achieving important goals is widely assumed to require confronting obstacles, failing repeatedly, and persisting in the face of frustration. Yet empirical evidence linking achievement and frustration tolerance is lacking. To facilitate work on this important topic, the authors developed and validated a novel behavioral measure of frustration tolerance: the Mirror Tracing Frustration Task (MTFT). In this 5-min task, participants allocate time between a difficult tracing task and entertaining games and videos. In two studies of young adults (Study 1: N = 148, Study 2: N = 283), the authors demonstrated that the MTFT increased frustration more than 18 other emotions, and that MTFT scores were related to self-reported frustration tolerance. Next, they assessed whether frustration tolerance correlated with similar constructs, including self-control and grit, as well as objective measures of real-world achievement. In a prospective longitudinal study of high-school seniors (N = 391), MTFT scores predicted grade-point average and standardized achievement test scores, and-more than 2 years after completing the MTFT-progress toward a college degree. Though small in size (i.e., rs ranging from .10 to .24), frustration tolerance predicted outcomes over and above a rich set of covariates, including IQ, sociodemographics, self-control, and grit. These findings demonstrate the validity of the MTFT and highlight the importance of frustration tolerance for achieving valued goals.