develop effective change-making strategies and plan for future
challenges by thinking about a situation they’ll encounter soon,
setting goals and reviewing the research to come up with ways
of overcoming likely obstacles. In the final phase, students
reflect on their personal “take-aways” and how to spread the
word, such as by launching a community service project.
The material is flexible enough that instructors can use it for
semester-long courses or just incorporate 10- to 15-minute
snippets into existing courses.
Zimbardo believes the program, which has been extensively
pilot-tested, is revolutionary, both in its content and the fact
that the delivery method is standardized across each topic area.
“Thus, teachers no longer need to prepare lectures or
exams,” he says. “The material is all interactive, and the proof
of student learning is built into the standard forms students
complete, such as summarizing the three take-home messages
from each lesson and with whom and how they will share what
they have learned, turning students into mentors.”
HIP differs from similar initiatives, such as social and
emotional learning and character development programs,
because of its emphasis on situational awareness, says Clint
Wilkins, a former high school principal who is now HIP’s
director of education.
“We focus on what holds people back from taking
“Sometimes situations work for us, but sometimes they
courageous action in challenging situations,” says Wilkins,
adding that most young people want to do the right thing but
may not know how or have much practice. “What we do is pull
back the veil and give them a glimpse of how situations work.”
The human tendency to seek acceptance and avoid
rejection, for example, can keep people from speaking up and
lead entire groups into poor decision-making. Similarly, says
Wilkins, the tendency to rely on others to interpret a situation
can stop people from responding to crises.
work against our best interests,” says Zimbardo. “The key lies in
understanding that difference.”
Now psychology professors, high school psychology teachers
and students themselves are getting involved.
Thanks to Psi Beta Executive Director Jerry Rudmann, PhD,
Psi Beta chapters are using HIP materials to deliver service
learning interventions to high school and community college
students, for example.
The Psi Beta chapter at Irvine Valley College piloted the
project last year, adapting HIP’s lesson on the bystander effect
and videotaping a train-the-trainers session so other chapters
could learn how to deliver the material. Eight chapters then
participated in the bystander effect intervention, and Psi Beta is
now working on mindset, prejudice and anti-bullying lessons.
Psi Beta didn’t just want to give chapters a service learning
project, says Leppien-Christensen, explaining that projects such
as serving lunches at soup kitchens or helping out at homeless
shelters are often no more than volunteerism.
“That’s useful and students benefit, but they’re not directly
Jann Longman, a former TOPSS chair who recently retired
applying theory and cutting-edge research in their activities,” he
says. “With HIP, they’re taking current research and telling other
students, ‘Hey, this is a common social phenomenon; don’t be
trapped by it.’”
TOPSS has also gotten involved, with high school
psychology teachers piloting programs, providing feedback to
HIP staff and suggesting ways to market HIP to high school
as a psychology teacher at Liberty High School in Renton,
Wash., used some of the lessons in her own classroom.
“The lessons really resonate with people,” she says.
Her former students have reported how much the mindset
lesson she taught them helped them become “academic
heroes” in their first semesters at college, she says. Their initial
discouragement disappeared when they remembered to view
academic troubles not as a sign that they weren’t smart enough
but as challenging new learning experiences and a prod to study
more and just work harder, she says.
The lessons, especially those on the power of situations to
influence behavior, have also helped students who go on to the
military, says Longman, noting that several worried beforehand
that they would find themselves doing things that were morally
“ I had one student come back and say that in several
situations when he was overseas, the lessons had really helped
him,” says Longman. Having learned about the forces that keep
people from acting as they should, she explains, the student was
able to step up and say something instead of simply going along
with negative things others were doing.
To supplement such anecdotal evidence, HIP is collecting
quantitative data. Psi Beta chapters that wish to fully participate
in the program, for example, must agree to collect data on the
intervention’s effect on both the students receiving it and the
students delivering it. (Because colleges must get approval from
local institutional review boards (IRBs), there are also non-research options for colleges that don’t have IRBs.) Preliminary
data show that HIP programs increase participants’ knowledge
and awareness of situational dynamics, says Wilkins.
In the meantime, the project is now spreading beyond U.S.
borders, says Zimbardo, citing workshops in Hong Kong and
Sweden and new plans to implement the project across the
entire Polish school system. He’s hoping that the initiative will
spread beyond students, too.
“Everyone is a potential hero by engaging in daily habits
of promoting the social good — as heroes in training,” says
For more information, visit www.heroicimagination.org. To
get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. n
Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.