Adolescent Stealers' and Nonstealers' Social Problem-Solving Skills

Article excerpt

Deficient social problem-solving (SPS) skills have been linked to such problems among minors as aggression (e.g., Dodge & Feldman, 1990), conduct-disorder (Joffe et al., 1990), and substance abuse (Platt, Scura, & Hannon, 1973). However, a relationship between SPS skills and behavioral adjustment has not been consistently supported (e.g., Rickel, Eshelman, & Loigman, 1983; Vitaro, Bouchard, Diotte, & McCaughry, 1988). In the present study, the SPS skills of a specific population, adolescent stealers, were assessed. Although conduct-disordered adolescents have been studied (e.g., Joffe et al., 1990; Slaby & Guerra, 1988), the SPS skills of adolescent stealers have not been evaluated. The apparent poor social judgment of stealers suggests that it would be informative to examine their SPS skills.



The participants were 22 adolescent males, 11 of whom were adjudicated stealers in a court-ordered treatment program at the county mental health center. The remaining 11 adolescents who did not have a history of stealing, were recruited from the local high school. Their ages ranged from 13 to 16 years (M = 15 years, SD = 8.6 months).


The Means-Ends Problem Solving (MEPS) test measures the ability to develop a step-by-step plan for solving hypothetical social problems (Platt & Spivack, 1975). The social situations were revised so that they were age-appropriate. The means indicated for achieving a specified goal were scored for the number of relevant means, irrelevant means, no means, obstacles, and for reference to the passage of time before reaching the goal. Internal consistency for the MEPS test ranges from .80 to .84. Construct validity has been demonstrated by studies indicating that various clinical and control groups can be discriminated by their MEPS scores (Platt & Spivack, 1975).

Alternative thinking was assessed by asking the subjects to "state all the different ways that come to mind for achieving the end goal" specified for the MEPS stories. Similar procedures have been used with younger children (e.g., Richard & Dodge, 1982). The solutions were rated as either effective, aggressive or passive by independent raters. Inter-rater reliability for the MEPS and alternative thinking scores ranged from .80 to .83.

Recognition of socially appropriate alternatives for solving a social dilemma was assessed by asking the adolescents to select the best of three alternatives for achieving the goal for a MEPS story. Inter-rater agreement between two clinical psychologists for the best option was 100%. The number of selections for each category (i.e., appropriate, aggressive or passive) was tallied across the nine stories to yield a sum score.

Demographic information was provided by parents who also completed a behavior-problem checklist. To measure cognitive abilities, the adolescents completed the Block Design and Similarities subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (Wechsler, 1974) and the Booklet Category Test (Halstead, 1947), a measure of abstract thinking. Participants also completed the Jesness Inventory, a 155-item self-report inventory for "delinquency-proneness" which reportedly has good validity and reliability (Jesness, 1988).


Participants and their parents were informed of the study by letter, accompanied by a consent form and the Jesness Inventory for the adolescents. Willing participants were then interviewed in their homes (parents and adolescents interviewed separately). A research assistant, blind to the participants' histories, administered the SPS and cognitive measures. Interviews were audiotaped. Upon completion, the adolescent was paid $10.


A one-way ANOVA was conducted to determine if the adolescents identified as stealers and nonstealers showed differences on incidents of stealing. This type of manipulation check revealed that self-reported acts of stealing differed by referral group, F(1,20) = 4. …


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