The Effects of School-Based Social Information Processing Interventions on Aggressive Behavior: Part I: Universal Programs

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 71 describes the following:

Title | The Effects of School-based Social Information Processing Interventions on Aggressive Behavior: Part I: Universal Programs

Author | A Campbell Collaboration Systematic Review. Reviewed by Sandra Jo Wilson and Mark W. Lipsey

Source | A Campbell Collaboration Systematic Review. Education Review Group.
Available online at:

Year Published | 2006

This systematic review examines the effects of universal school-based social information processing interventions on the aggressive and disruptive behavior of school-age children. Program effects are examined overall and in relation to methodological and substantive differences across studies.

Over 75% of schools in the U.S. reportedly use one or more behavior problem prevention programs to deal with bullying, disruptive behavior, and conflict.  One aspect that these prevention programs sometimes address is the social information processing difficulties of students with behavior problems.  The social information processing model describes six interrelated steps that result in social behavior:

  1. Encoding cues from the situation
  2. Interpreting those cues
  3. Selecting or clarifying a social goal
  4. Generating or assessing various responses to accomplish this goal
  5. Choosing a response
  6. Enacting the behavior

According to the social information processing model, behavior problems are the result of a breakdown or deficit in one of these stages.

In order for a program to qualify for the purposes of this synthesis it had to meet several specific criteria.  This meta-analysis only considered social information processing programs which possessed three specific characteristics:

  • The program trained students in at least one of the social information processing steps described above;
  • Instead of focusing on behavioral skills the program focused on thinking skills and processes that could be applied to a variety of social situations;
  • The program applied cognitive skills to social situations through the use of structured tasks and activities.

Social information processing programs can be delivered to an entire class (these are called universal programs), or to a targeted group of students who have been identified as having behavior problems or being at risk for behavior problems (these programs are called selected or indicated programs).  The Campbell Collaboration’s review of social information processing interventions is split into two parts.  This section (Part I) focuses on universal programs.  The other report (Part II) is reviewed as NICHCY Structured Abstract 77, and focuses on selected or indicated pull-out programs.

Research Questions
What are the effects of universal school-based social information processing interventions on the aggressive and disruptive behavior of school-age children?

Research Design
Systematic Review; Meta-Analysis*

  • Number of Studies Included | 73
  • Number of Subjects | Not reported.
  • Years Spanned | 1976 – 2004

Research Subjects
School-aged children who were part of a social information processing program offered to all the children in their classroom or school.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Grades: K-12. Ages: 4-16.

Specified Disability

  • Disorders: behavior disorders, adjustment disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, attachment disorder, juvenile delinquency, attention deficit disorder.
  • Populations: school dropouts, truant youth, at risk populations, predelinquent youth, high risk students.

Social information processing programs had to meet three criteria in order to be included in this synthesis:

  1. The focus of the program needed to clearly be social information processing and training had to be provided on at least one of the social information processing program steps:  (1) encoding situational and internal cues, (2) interpretation of cues, (3) selecting or clarifying a goal, (4) generating or accessing possible responses, (5) choosing a response, (6) and behavioral enactment.
  2. The emphasis of the program needed to be on cognitive skills rather than behavioral skills.
  3. The application of cognitive skills to real social situations needed to be taught  through structured tasks and activities.

In addition, studies in Part I of this report focused only on universal programs,  which were delivered to entire classrooms of students that included both children with and without pre-existing behavior problems.

Duration Intervention
Two-thirds of the programs lasted less than 20 weeks.  The remaining third of the programs lasted from 20 weeks to more than 1 year.


  • Overall the universal social information processing programs examined in this metanalysis were found to be effective for reducing aggressive and disruptive behavior.
  • Children whose families were in the low range of socioeconomic status or who attended schools in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods had greater reductions in disruptive and aggressive behavior after participating in social information processing programs than children from working and middle class families.
  • Social information processing programs implemented for research and demonstration programs produced significantly larger effects than those administered by school personnel as an ongoing school program. However, whether or not the program was implemented had a significant impact regardless of who the program was implemented by (i.e. the school or the researchers).
  • The more frequent treatment sessions per week a program had the more effective it was at producing reductions in aggressive and disruptive behavior.

Combined Effects Size
The combined effect size* for universal social information processing programs was 0.21. This effect size is considered to be in the low end of the significant range. The authors translate the effect size for the study into real world terms explaining:

We can translate [the effect size] into terms that are more concrete by converting it into typical levels of aggressive behavior in schools. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 14.2% of students reported being in a physical fight on school grounds in the year prior to the survey. For 1995 and 1997, 15.5% and 14.8% of students reported being in physical fights (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002). If we use these figures to estimate that about 15% of untreated school children will get into a fight during a school year, the overall effect size of .21 for universal social information processing programs translates into about a seven percentage point reduction in fighting. That is, if 15% of students who received no social information processing training were getting into fights before intervention, only about 8% of children in social information processing programs were getting into fights. The most effective programs produced larger effects than this and, thus, would reduce rates of aggressive behavior even more. (pp. 23-24)

Many schools already employ universal social information processing interventions as part of violence prevention.  The results of this study show that these programs have a small but statistically significant effect, and suggest that programs which focus on quality implementation or are implemented in schools with students whose families fall in the category of low SES may have even more significantly positive results.


* Terms Defined

Effect size (ES or d) | A statistical calculation, often represented as ES or d, that measures the impact of an intervention. An effect size below d = 0.20 suggests that a treatment did not have a significant effect. An effect size of d = 0.20 is considered small or low; an effect size of d = 0.50 is considered moderate; an effect size of d = 0.80 or above is large.

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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