The purpose of the present study was to explore the possibility of enhancing older adolescents' problem-solving skills using two information-processing tools: schematic maps and peer feedback. Specifically, the types of personal problems addressed were those that are recurring but have not yet reached a clinical threshold. To distinguish these from more serious and chronic problems, such as alcoholism, they are referred to as recurring, uncomfortable situations or states of being.
The process of dealing with these uncomfortable situations can be viewed as preventive maintenance or early intervention and treatment. Implementation may nip potential difficulties in the bud and thus reduce or eliminate the onset of more severe problems (e.g., drug abuse). Also, dealing with these uncomfortable situations may allow the individual to develop strategies that will facilitate the resolution of more complex difficulties.
The present research was based on the assumption that personal problems are different from objective problems in two ways. First, they rely on what may be a poorly organized database for solutions (i.e., episodic memory). Second, personal problems are embedded within systems of behavior. based on previous work in the domain of cognitive psychology, several tools have been developed to address the peculiarities of personal problems. These tools are designed to schematize episodic memory and provide a means of representing complex systems in an understandable form. Two specific tools were utilized in the present study. The first, schematic maps, provides a framework for organizing information regarding episodes involving personal discomfort, adjustment, or coping problems. The second, peer feedback, allows individuals to compare problem-solving strategies and solution alternatives.
The Unique Nature of Personal Problems
One of the first issues to be addressed in designing problem-solving approaches is the unique characteristics and difficulties associated with personal problems.
Episodic memory as a database for personal problems. Typically, solutions to personal problems rely on information from episodic memory, which consists of events and experiences. Tulving (1983) points out several characteristics of episodic memory that may hamper personal problem solving. He suggests that the episodic memory system is loose and spatially/temporally organized. Retrieval difficulties caused by this lack of organizational structure may reduce the availability of critical information and the ability to make inferences.
Further, individuals tend to feel an intense subjective verticality about events they have experienced and subsequently retrieved from episodic memory (Tulving, 1983). Seldom is anyone convinced that an event happened in a manner different from what they remember, yet there is no way for the individual to judge the absolute accuracy of that memory because it is impossible to compare the recollection with the actual event. In fact, there is considerable evidence from the domains of social and cognitive psychology which suggests that an individual's memory of events is "tainted" or distorted by event schemas, or scripts (e.g., Abelson, 1981).
Finally, episodic memories carry with them affective components that can dramatically influence retrieval (Bower, 1981). From a clinical perspective, negative affect can interfere with the ability to confront past experiences. In some cases, individuals will avoid confronting a problem because of the desire not to experience the negative affect. Some individuals repress specific memories completely, keeping certain mental contents of an episode out of conscious awareness (Halpern, 1989).
Because of the nature of episodic memory and the affect with which it is often associated, it is necessary to provide individuals with tools (described later) to organize and "neutralize" their recollections in order to reduce …