In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Understanding the Psycho-Social Dimensions of Schools and Classrooms

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Mindsets and Implicit Beliefs
  • Self-Regulation and Self-Control
  • Help Seeking
  • Future Goals and Future Time Perspective
  • Bullying and Student Behavior in School

Education Understanding the Psycho-Social Dimensions of Schools and Classrooms
Nathan Berger, Jennifer Archer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0266


Psycho-social refers to the connections between psychological and social aspects of human experience. It describes the ways in which people’s cognition, affect, and behavior, in many ways, are a product of the society or culture in which they were raised. Schools and classrooms are sites of intense psycho-social activity because it is here that young people learn to express their thoughts and emotions via interactions with teachers and other students. The importance of these individual and collective psycho-social experiences cannot be understated. The ultimate purpose of schooling is to enable young people to live fulfilling and productive lives within their cultural and social context. Given the broad scope of the term psycho-social, some difficult decisions had to be made about the content of this article. The overriding focus is given to ways in which teachers can enhance the positive psycho-social aspects of their classrooms, with an emphasis on empirical research (or reviews of empirical research) that investigate the experiences of children and adolescents. It proved impossible to cover all potential theoretical and research perspectives. The choice of research perspectives and citations for this bibliography has been guided by salience. In some cases, citations are seminal contributions to their field. In other cases, they represent particularly impactful or interesting findings.

General Overviews

The four articles cited in this section provide general overviews of the key ideas covered in this article. They are written by leading researchers and are published in important journals in the field. A key idea pointed out in Massey, et al. 2008 is that goals are significant drivers of human behavior. Dweck and Leggett 1988 argues that goals usually operate at the interface between the psychology of individuals and their relationships with others. As such, according to Covington 2000, students’ goals (including academic and social goals) affect their experiences in school and beyond school. Goal content and pursuit thus are important lenses through which to view the psycho-social dimensions of classrooms and schools. Another key consideration of the psycho-social dimensions of school is the influence of students’ background characteristics on their social and academic development. Bradley and Corwyn 2002 provides an extensive overview of the research into the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and development. SES has been associated with health, behavioral, emotional, and academic achievement outcomes during childhood and adolescence. The authors discuss the mechanisms by which these outcomes become differentiated by SES. In almost all sections of this article reference is made to research about the influence of SES (or at a more general level, social class) on students’ positive or negative experiences of school. Given the consensus that SES/social class differences in academic achievement are increasing rather than decreasing this is a major cause for concern.

  • Bradley, R., and R. Corwyn. 2002. Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology 53:371–399.

    The authors document the significant links among a family’s socioeconomic status (SES), the SES of the surrounding community, and the development of children. SES is associated with many health, cognitive, and socio-emotional outcomes in children and adolescents. Research demonstrates that high SES families tend to provide more physical and psychological support to children, while low SES families encounter stress-inducing conditions that reduce the support they are able to provide to children.

  • Covington, M. 2000. Goal theory, motivation and school achievement: An integrative review. Annual Review of Psychology 51:171–200.

    Covington examines motives as drivers of behavior before exploring achievement goal theory from both academic and social goal perspectives. He then considers classroom incentive structures. He concludes that high-quality learning emerges from an interplay among motives, goals, and incentive structures. However, while academic goals and incentive structures are relatively well understood, less is known about how social goals fit within this interplay. Directions for future research are proposed.

  • Dweck, C. S., and E. Leggett. 1988. A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review 95.2: 256–273.

    The authors propose a social-cognitive model of motivation that describes how our implicit theories about human characteristics (for example, whether intelligence is fixed or malleable) can create mastery orientations and helplessness in individuals. They demonstrate how adaptive and maladaptive cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns are influenced by different goals. Beyond this intra-individual unit of analysis, Dweck and Leggett argue the model can be applied to inter-individual analyses of social relations.

  • Massey, E., W. Gebhardt, and N. Garnefski. 2008. Adolescent goal content and pursuit: A review of the literature from the past 16 years. Developmental Review 28.4: 421–460.

    Human behavior is fundamentally goal directed. The authors examine 102 articles that focus on adolescents’ goals (or aspirations) and how they pursue them. Adolescents aspire to goals that fit with their life circumstances and social context, including socio-demographic and cultural factors (e.g., age, gender, family characteristics, and ethnic background). To what extent are goals linked to risky behavior? Can school interventions be developed to reduce adolescents’ pursuit of risky behaviors?

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