Effects of Training Social Competence in Children: A Meta-Analysis of Recent Evaluation Studies

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 42 describes the following:

Title | Effects of Training Social Competence in Children: A Meta-Analysis of Recent Evaluation Studies

Author | Beelman, A., Pfingsten, U., & Losel, F.

Source | Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 23(3), 260-271.

Year Published | 1994

Presents a meta-analytical review of 49 studies, from 1981 to 1990, on the effect of social competence training (SCT) on 3- to 15-year-olds. Main issues were (a) effectiveness in relation to program type and client characteristics as well as outcome criteria, (b) differential effects, (c) types of long-term effect, and (d) a comparison to other meta-analyses in the field. Results showed that SCT was moderately effective. However, effect sizes were lower than in previous studies. There were specific, characteristic effects for various types of program and on various client groups. Two main problems were identified: First, significant effect sizes were found only when direct goal criteria (e.g., social-cognitive skills) were evaluated, whereas there were few effects on broader constructs (e.g., social adjustment). Second, long-term effects were weak. We concluded that further primary studies are needed on the generalization and maintenance of change.

One of the defining characteristics of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) is a deficit in social skills. Their lack of interpersonal skills leads to problems forming and maintaining relationships with peers, and often start cycles of peer rejection, withdrawal, social isolation, and loneliness. Over the years many programs have been designed to teach social skills through direct instruction, modeling, role playing, and practice.

One form of social skills intervention that has been well researched is Social Competence Training (SCT). SCT programs were originally aimed at children who were socially withdrawn or aggressive, but over the years SCT programs have been developed for a range of other disabilities, including children who are labeled as learning disabled (LD), at-risk, or as emotionally or behaviorally disordered (EBD).

Research Questions
This meta-analysis summarizes the effectiveness of social competence training (SCT) by specifically focusing on its effectiveness along a number of dimensions:

  • Program type
  • Client characteristics
  • Outcome criteria
  • Differential effects
  • Long-term effects

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 49
  • Number of Subjects | N/A
  • Years Spanned | 1981-1990

Research Subjects
Student ages and backgrounds varied.

Age/Grade of Subjects
3 to 15 years old

Specified Disability
Most subjects were diagnosed with Emotional Disturbance (EBD) and Learning Disabilities (LD). At-risk students and students without any identifiable disability were also included in some studies.

The SCTs were either monomodal (meaning that they focused on behavioral, social problem solving, or perspective-taking interventions) or multimodal (meaning that they combined elements of behavioral interventions, social problem solving, perspective-taking, or self-control interventions).

Duration of Intervention
1-15 hours or 1-20+ sessions. However, some studies did not include this information.


  1. Programs that focused only on one aspect of social skills (monomodal programs) were more effective for younger children (i.e., 3 to 8 year olds), while the opposite was true for older children (9 to 15 year olds). Older children were only positively affected by more complex (multimodal) SCT programs.
  2. The skills gained through SCT may only be maintained for a short period of time and may not be easily generalized to other situations where they might also be appropriate.
  3. Only social-cognitive skills training showed any long-term effects.

Combined Effects Size
The 70 comparisons produced effect sizes ranging from -0.35 to 3.20, with an unweighted-mean of 0.61 and a weighted-mean of 0.47.

Overall, the data suggest that social competence training (SCT) can enhance social interaction skills.
The authors suggest that future SCT programs should:

  • address students’ individual social skill deficits and needs,
  • teach students how to generalize social skills to novel situations, and
  • bring about long-term, comprehensive changes in social competency.

Future Research
There is a need for more studies that investigate longer term gains of SCT, as well as studies that report on children’s abilities to generalize social skills across settings.


* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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