Social Skills Training for Young Adolescents: Symbolic and Behavioral Components

Article excerpt

Social skills training has been associated with positive outcomes for adolescents, such as enhanced self-esteem (Stake, DeVille, & Pennell, 1983), increased problem-solving skills (Guerra & Slaby, 1990; Sarason & Sarason, 1981), drug refusal (Horan & Williams, 1982; Williams, 1980) and sex refusal (Rayvid & Brock, 1986). Assertiveness, one type of social skill, has been defined as expressing one's rights and opinions with respect for the rights of others (Alberti & Emmons, 1974; Lange & Jakubowski, 1976). Wise, Bundy, Bundy, and Wise (1991) studied the acquisition of this skill in adolescents from a social cognitive theory approach. They found that adolescents could learn and retain cognitive information that is basic to understanding the concept of assertion. According to Bandura's (1977, 1986) social cognitive theory, this acquisition of symbolic representation is only the first step in changing behavior. Understanding assertion and behaving assertively are not the same thing.

Bandura (1977, 1986) suggests that many components are necessary for making use of acquired knowledge to produce a desired behavior. For instance, according to his description of antecedent regulatory mechanisms, in order to choose assertive behavior, a person must interpret a situation as indicating that desirable consequences are available as a result of that behavior. This supports the importance of accurately perceiving the social cues. Curran (1979) suggests that inaccurate perception of these cues generally leads to inappropriate social responses. Another component is the individual's self-efficacy for assertive behavior. Bandura's (1977, 1986) construct of self-efficacy implies that persons must believe they have the potential to make the appropriate assertive response if they are to choose this response.

Bandura's theory regarding the transition from stored knowledge to behavioral applications is well supported by Flavell's (cited in Hains & Ryan, 1983) model of social cognition, which includes the following components: (1) Existence (the structure of knowledge a person possesses about social cognitive phenomena); (2) Need (a person's awareness that a situation requires some social cognitive activity); (3) Inference (the selection of an actual strategy); and (4) Application (subsequent behavior in which a person engages as a consequence of inferences made).

Bandura's and Flavell's theories suggest the importance of studying the adolescent's transformation of stored symbolic information about assertiveness into appropriate behaviors. We cannot accurately predict whether people will behave assertively in given situations from measures of their stored knowledge alone. In the present study, we expanded the curriculum from Wise et al. (1991) and replicated the measures of symbolic acquisition and retention. In addition, we measured the verbal content of assertive behavior in a pretest-posttest role-play as a beginning step in examining the transition from knowing about assertion to behaving assertively.

Subjects

Subjects consisted of 56 sixth-grade students in comparable classes from two elementary schools. The control group consisted of a class of 11 boys and 13 girls. The other class (12 boys and 16 girls) made up the experimental group and received the assertiveness training.

Instruments

Cognitive acquisition. Cognitive acquisition was measured using the same pretest, posttest, and follow-up used by Wise et al. (1991). The pretest and follow-up were identical, and the posttest was matched question for question in terms of content and difficulty level. Each test consisted of 26 multiple-choice questions with one correct answer and three incorrect distractors, and was designed to measure recognition of definitions and examples related to assertion, aggression, nonaggression, and their likely consequences.

Behavioral measures. Performance measures of the verbal content of assertive behavior were made using two role-play situations modeled after those from the Behavioral Assertiveness Test for Children (Bornstein, Bellack, & Hersen, 1977). …