Dual-process theories propose that human decision-making involves two separate cognitive systems: a fast, automatic, intuitive system (System 1) and a slower, reflective, deliberate system (System 2)1. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is related to dual-process theories because it involves the development of both automatic and reflective processes for managing emotions, regulating behavior, and making decisions.

SEL interventions aim to strengthen both System 1 and System 2 processes. For example, teaching students to recognize and label their emotions (System 1) and then to regulate their behavior based on their goals and values (System 2)2. SEL also involves developing metacognitive skills that help individuals become more aware of their thinking processes and make more deliberate, intentional decisions3.

Examples of Applying Dual-Process Theories to Social Emotional Learning

One example of applying dual-process theories to SEL is the use of mindfulness practices in the classroom. Mindfulness involves paying attention to present moment experiences with an attitude of openness and non-judgment4. Mindfulness practices can strengthen System 1 processes by increasing students’ awareness of their automatic thoughts and reactions to stressors. At the same time, mindfulness practices can strengthen System 2 processes by encouraging students to engage in deliberate, intentional reflection on their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Another example is the use of decision-making frameworks that explicitly integrate System 1 and System 2 processes. For example, the Decision-Making Triangle model5 encourages individuals to consider their emotions, thoughts, and values when making decisions. This model involves both automatic (System 1) and reflective (System 2) processes, and can be a useful tool for teaching students how to make more intentional, values-driven decisions.

Benefits of Incorporating Dual-Process Theories into Social Emotional Learning

Incorporating dual-process theories into SEL can have several benefits. First, it can help students develop a more nuanced understanding of their own thinking processes, which can enhance their self-awareness and metacognitive skills6. Second, it can help students develop more effective strategies for managing their emotions and regulating their behavior, by teaching them to balance automatic and reflective processes7. Finally, it can help students become more intentional and values-driven decision-makers, by providing them with a framework for integrating System 1 and System 2 processes.


  1. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

  2. Brackett, M. A., & Rivers, S. E. (2020). Transforming students’ lives with social and emotional learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(4), 8-12. 

  3. Metcalfe, J., & Mischel, W. (1999). A hot/cool-system analysis of delay of gratification: Dynamics of willpower. Psychological Review, 106(1), 3-19. 

  4. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York, NY: Bantam. 

  5. Bagnoli, A. (2009). Constructing meaning in the face of ambiguity: An inquiry into the decision-making process. Educational Researcher, 38(2), 97-107. 

  6. Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135-168. 

  7. Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects. Psychological Inquiry, 26.