Social Skills Training for Young Adolescents: Cognitive and Performance Components

Article excerpt

Social skills training for adolescents has been associated with enhanced self-esteem (Stake, DeVille, & Pennell, 1983), improved problem-solving skills (Guerra & Slaby, 1990; Sarason & Sarason, 1981), drug refusal (Horan & Williams, 1982; Williams, 1980), and sex refusal (Rayvid & Brock, 1986). Assertiveness is the social skill that is 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) and Thompson, Bundy, and Broncheau (1995) studied adolescent assertiveness from Bandura's (1977, 1986) social cognitive theory approach, particularly focusing on the relationship between stored cognitive information and behavioral performance. In both of these studies they found that sixth-graders could learn and retain cognitive information basic to understanding the concept of assertion. However, when they expanded their measures to include a role-play assessment of verbal assertive behavior, they were unable to show that the trained adolescents performed better than the controls (Thompson et al., 1995). Thus, these results support Bandura's (1977, 1986) assumption that the acquisition of symbolic information is not sufficient for behavior change.

One possible explanation for the discrepancy between trained students' performance on the cognitive measures and their performance on the verbal role-play tests could be inaccurate perception of social cues. The subjects could have either failed to interpret the stimulus in the role play as a cue for examining their knowledge of assertiveness information or failed to recognize the stimulus as an indicator that an assertive response would be reinforced. Another explanation could be the subjects' lack of motivation, which might have been related to a low level of self-efficacy for the assertive response, lack of expectation that the assertive response would be reinforced, or low value assigned to the predicted reinforcer. A final possibility is the tendency for young adolescents to engage in concrete rather than formal operational thought (Halford, 1989). The cognitive functioning of the sixth-grade subjects in the Thompson et al. (1995) study may have been too concrete to allow for consideration of possible behaviors and outcomes before choosing an assertive response.

In the present study, the curriculum of Wise et al. (1991) and Thompson et al. (1995) was expanded to include more opportunities to practice assertive responses in a wider variety of situations appropriate to young adolescents. The goal was to give the students more feedback about the accuracy of their perceptions of social cues and to increase their self-efficacy for assertive behavior. It was speculated that an emphasis on repetitious practice with reinforcement might elevate the probability of the assertive response and be an appropriate technique directed at these young adolescents' more concrete level of functioning.

In this study we replicated the multiple-choice measures of cognitive acquisition used in Wise et al. (1991) and Thompson et al. (1995), expanded the role-play methods used in Thompson et al. (1995), and measured both the verbal and nonverbal performance components of assertive behavior. Through curriculum expansion and the addition of more in-depth performance measures, we hoped to better understand the relationship between cognition and performance as it relates to assertiveness in young adolescents.

METHOD

Subjects

Subjects consisted of 68 fifth-grade students in three comparable classes in two elementary schools. One class (13 boys and 9 girls) received the assertiveness training, which included cognitive and performance elements. Another class (16 boys and 7 girls) served as a control group for both the cognitive and performance tests. A third class (13 boys and 10 girls) served as a second control group for cognitive testing only. …