The Impact and Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

The Impact and Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning

The effects of social-emotional learning are manifold, from influencing academic performance to social behaviour.

The impact of social-emotional learning

Social-emotional learning has a number of benefits to young people’s lives while they are students, and beyond. The fields where the most improvement is seen:

  • Personal behaviour and attitudes, including a decline in anxiety, stress, behavioural problems such as aggression, and substance use
  • Relationships in the classroom and beyond, such as forming friendships and maintaining healthy relationships with parents or in their broader community
  • Academic performance and achievement, from better homework management to improving grades, to long-term results such as better chances of getting a university degree
  • (Pro)social behaviour, such as cooperation or helping others by learning empathy and compassion

Let’s take a closer look at these areas and how social-emotional learning affects them.

SEL impact #1: Success in school, work and life

  • Emotional intelligence or emotional and social competencies have been shown to improve cognitive abilities for personal, career and academic success, and educational and life chances in general; helping to decrease the social and emotional barriers to learning as well

“Students who are anxious, angry or depressed don’t learn; people who are in these states do not take in information efficiently or deal with it well… when emotions overwhelm concentration, what is being swamped is the mental capacity cognitive scientists call ‘working memory’, the ability to hold in mind all information relevant to the task at hand.” (Goleman, 1996;

  • Programmes that teach social and emotional competencies can improve school attendance, higher motivation, and higher morale (Durlak, 1995; Durlak and Wells, 1997; US Government’s General Accounting Office, 1995;

SEL impact #2: Improved behaviour

  • A review of 11 school programmes showed that teaching social competencies decreased early behaviour problems in childhood (Marshall and Watt, 1999: 298,

SEL impact #3: Improved learning

  • Emotions like sadness and anger can block learning, while well-being, or feeling safe and valued promote learning, meaning learning to manage emotions can help in learning (Greenhalgh, 1994;
  • People cannot think clearly when dominated by powerful emotions, especially negative ones (Weissberg and Elias, 1993;

SEL impact #4: Better mental health

  • Children can suffer from mental health problems and longitudinal studies show that children with emotional and behavioural problems are prone to mental illness problems in later life and have increased likelihood of school exclusion, offending, antisocial behaviour, marital breakdown, drug misuse, alcoholism and mental illness in adolescence and adulthood (

“… those with high levels of emotional and social competence do better in school, at work, and in their personal life. The development of emotional and social competence and well-being can reduce mental health problems of young people and their teachers, e.g. depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, stress” (


Statistics about the impact and benefits of social-emotional learning

SEL can impact student’s learning and overall behaviour in school as well as in the long term, according to numerous global studies:

  • Students were 42% less likely to say they were involved in physical aggression (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013)
  • 20% less bullying by students with disabilities (Hammill Institute on Disabilities, 2015)
  • $11 returned for each $1 invested in social-emotional learning (CBCSE, 2015)
  • 5–12% decrease in school dropout rates associated with SEL (NBER, 2014)
  • 13% increase in academic achievement with SEL (Child Development, 2017)
  • 79% of employers say SEL skills are the most important qualities for job success (World Bank Group, 2016)
  • 27% more students would improve their academic performance at the end of the (SEL) program; 57% more would gain in their skills levels; 24% more would have improved social behaviours and lower levels of distress; 23% more would have improved attitudes; and 22% more would show fewer conduct problems (CASEL, 2011-2017)