Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Daniel J. Hurley


This research project is undertaken to explore the relationship between social problem solving and the academic and social performance of high school youth. Psychologists have stated that social problem solving is an important component of psychosocial competence. Similarly, both theory and research have linked social problem solving to overt behavioral adjustment to school in populations of young children. In this study, the broader notion that academic and social performance in high school will be strongly related to social problem solving was tested.

A total sample of 128 male and female students from grades 9 - 12, from selected classes and guidance groups participated in the study. The site was a suburban high school located in southern New England. The students were administered the survey in small groups in one 50-minute sitting. Social problem solving was operationally defined as / means-ends thinking {an interpersonal cognitive problem solving measure developed by Platt and Spivack). School performance was operationally defined as academic performance {grade point average, number of semesters on honor roll, and post high school training goals) and social performance {a measure of social network developed by Mitchell and extracurricular school activities). Hollingshead1 s two-factor method was used to measure socioeconomic status. Measures of community social network and community involvement {Mitchell's social network measure, community clubs, and number of jobs) allowed for the comparison of school and community social performance profiles.

The following hypotheses were tested: 1. School performance, community performance, and problem solving do not vary by the demographic variables of grade level, sex, or, socioeconomic status. 2. High school students with more effective social problem solving skills will show higher social and academic performance in school.

Results of a series of two-way ANOVA's indicated that the demographic variables of grade level and socioeconomic status differentially affect certain school and community performance indices. Upper class students had more extensively developed school social networks than middle and lower class students. Problem solving ability varied by grade level: sophomores, juniors, and seniors had greater social problem solving scores than freshmen. Further, high problem solvers showed more effective academic and social performance in school and better community performance than their counterparts with middle and lower problem solving scores. Multiple regression analyses indicated strong positive relationships between school and community predictor variables and problem solving skills.

The results of this study suggest that social problem solving is significantly related to school and community performance. Notions of problem solving as an active coping strategy for environmental mastery are supported. Schools are postulated to play an active role in the facilitation of problem solving skills and developing the overall social skills of youth. Implications of these results for psychological theory, the practice of school psychology, and the directions for future research are discussed.



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