Cognitive, Affective, and Regulatory Skill Contributions to Social Problem Solving: Developmental Relations Across Elementary School

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Augenstern, Julia, Clinical Psychology - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Tolan, Patrick, ED-EDHS Department, University of Virginia

Strong relationships in childhood are related to immediate and long-term positive social, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Social Problem Solving (SPS), or how youth understand, evaluate, and respond to social situations, is a key skillset that develops during middle childhood and relates to how youth make, navigate, and maintain social relationships. Better understanding of SPS may help researchers design more effective interventions to support the development of positive peer relationships. Recent work in the field has recognized the essential role of affective and regulatory skills in youth functioning and called for their integration into understanding of SPS to augment traditionally cognitive-behavioral models. The present study examined how key affective (empathic concern), socio-cognitive (perspective-taking), and regulatory (self-control) skills related to SPS concurrently and SPS development across one school year in samples of older (grades 4,5) and younger (grades 2,3) elementary school students. In addition, this study examines how these relationships are influenced by developmental social-ecological factors such as student perceptions of classroom peer relationship climate and differ qualitatively by developmental stage. Multilevel regression analyses were applied to examine direct effects, longitudinal growth effects (isolating baseline SPS and examining relation to outcome SPS), and the moderating effects of perceived classroom peer relationship climate. Results indicated significant direct effects for empathic concern, perspective-taking, and self-control to SPS concurrently. Fewer significant effects were found relating these skills to growth in SPS. Moderating effects for perceived classroom peer relationship climate were identified for the older elementary, but not younger elementary group. In the older elementary group, when perceived classroom peer relationship climate was high, self-control was negatively associated with SPS. Further qualitative developmental consistencies and inconsistencies between the two grade level groups were identified and discussed. Overall, results support the interrelation of cognitive, affective, and regulatory skills with SPS, offer promising directions for future research, and present possible avenues for tailoring youth prevention and intervention efforts as informed by developmental stage and socioemotional context. 

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
social problem solving, elementary, childhood, cognitive, perspective-taking, affective, empathy, empathic concern, regulatory, self-control, classroom, community
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