What is a Kernel?

An evidence-based kernel is the smallest unit of proven behavioral influence. Every kernel has experimental studies proving it works. See Embry and Biglan (2008) for details.

  • Kernels have all sorts of uses for Promise Neighborhoods
  • Kernels can successfully treat substance abuse
  • Kernels can reduce violence
  • Kernels can improve infant health and development
  • Kernels can improve family life
  • Kernels can improve educational outcomes

A great value of kernels is that they are low-cost and can be spread by word of mouth or demonstration. The effects can be easily proven in your own neighborhood.

Kernels come in four kinds, and can help a neighborhood achieve its promise. Kernels can help every neighbor—from children to seniors—participate actively in making a meaningful difference.

Types of kernels


  • Happens before the behavior you want to influence…


Response Cards. In the classroom, teachers can use response cards that students hold up for their answers. This improves attention, reduces disruptive behavior, and increases academic achievement.

Soft Team Competition. Student “teams” compete to clear rocks off playgrounds or trash from blocks, making everyone feel safer.


  • Happens after the behavior you want to influence.


Prize Bowl. This powerful strategy tested by the National Insitute on Drug Abuse gets people off cocaine, heroin, meth, and other drugs quickly and inexpensively.

Mystery Motivator. Parents can use this simple strategy to help their children and teens finish homework or chores. Or, it can help parents get teens not to use drugs.


  • Influences behavior by the use of words


Goal/Node Maps. Probation or parole agents use these motivational maps to help juvenile delinquents achieve goals. Home visitors use the Maps to help moms get a job, go to school, or achieve something for a child.

Peer-to-Peer Tutoring. First graders through adults use this practice several times per week, rapidly accelerating math, vocabulary, or reading while reducing special ed needs.


  • Influences behavior through biological means


Omega 3. Doing what your grandmother said reduces violent felony offenses, reduces mental illnesses in adults. It increases child IQ when taken during pregnancy.

Physical Activity. Reduces disabling depression as well as expensive medications, plus improves overall health. Using active, phyiscal activity during class increases academic achievement and reduces obesity/BMI.