A Meta-Analysis of Social Skill Interventions for Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 33 describes the following:

Title | A Meta-Analysis of Social Skill Interventions for Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders

Author | Quinn, M.M., Kavale, K.A., Mathur, S.R., Rutherford , R.B., & Forness, S.R.

Source Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 7(1), 54-64.

Year Published | 1999 ( Spring)

Analyzes the findings from 35 studies investigating the effects of social skills interventions for students with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD). Many programs designed for children and youth with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD) include a social skill training component. Using quantitative methods of meta-analysis, the findings from 35 studies investigating the effects of social skill interventions for students with EBD were synthesized. The pooled mean effect size (ES) was 0.199, from which the average student with EBD would be expected to gain a modest eight percentile ranks on outcome measures after participating in a social skill training program. Studies were further grouped and analyzed according to different variables (e.g., similarities of the intervention, participants, and assessment procedures). Slightly greater ESs were found for interventions that focused on teaching and measuring specific social skills (e.g., cooperating, or social problem solving) compared to more global interventions. Several pertinent issues for reviewing the results of this research synthesis are addressed.

Many children with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD) display social skill deficits that can add to their difficulties in school. Such deficits may exhibit themselves in a number of ways, including:

  • Inappropriate interactions with others, including classmates and teachers;
  • Difficulty in expressing physical or emotional needs;
  • Poor understanding of social cues, rules, or manners;
  • Violence, aggression, or other disruptive behavior.

Social skills training has been used with children with EBD in an effort to improve their interpersonal relationships. Supportive social networks, in turn, can result in more favorable outcomes both inside and outside of the classroom. Social skills training typically involves any of the following:

  • Identifying particular social skills in need of improvement;
  • Explaining why a particular social skill is important;
  • Demonstrating or modeling appropriate skills for the child to see;
  • Having the child practice new skills in role-playing situations with a trained coach who can provide feedback and reinforcement;
  • Helping the child identify various social situations in which skills might be applied.

Research Questions
Examines the effects of participation in social skills training programs on students with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD), as well as the effect sizes of different types of social skills interventions. Specific research questions include:

  • What is the nature and overall effect of social skills training for students with EBD?
  • Does this effect vary depending on how long the treatment lasts, the person who judges effectiveness, or the research design?
  • Does the effect differ when specific constructs are used to measure social skills?
  • Does the effect size differ depending on the type of dependent measures used?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 35
  • Number of Subjects | 1,123
  • Years Spanned | 1981-1992

Research Subjects
Children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD)

  • Average IQ of 94
  • 67% boys, 33% girls

Age/Grade of Subjects
Average age = 11.53 years

Specified Disability
Emotional/Behavioral Disturbance (EBD)

Of the 35 social skills training studies in this meta-analysis, 22 included training procedures such as direct instruction, modeling, role-playing, rehearsal, group discussion, and feedback. Examples of these programs included problem-solving skill training, interpersonal problem solving, and behavioral and social skills training. Commercially available social skill training programs or programs described in the literature were used in the remaining 13 studies (37%). The commercial or established training programs included ACCEPTS, ASSET, Skill-streaming, Prepare Curriculum, and Aggression Replacement Training.

Duration of Intervention
Average of 2.5 hours per week for 12 weeks, or 30 hours.


  1. Social skills training programs had small effects in improving the social skills of students with EBD.
  2. Training programs had a greater effect in reducing students’ anxiety levels.

Combined Effects Size

  • Improving social skills: Effect size = .199 (small)
  • Reducing anxiety: Effect size = .422 (moderate)

Social skills training programs for students with EBD appear to have modest effects. The authors offer several suggestions to explain why social skills training proves to be only minimally effective.

  1. On average, these programs were only 30 hours long (2.5 hours over 12 weeks). The researchers suggest that these interventions may not have been long enough or thorough enough to have an effect.
  2. Social skills intervention programs cover a wide range of skills. Students, on the other hand, may benefit more from a focused training that addresses their specific social skills deficits.
  3. Skills taught in the intervention programs may not correspond to the types of skills teachers are hoping to see improved in classroom settings.

Overall, the researchers suggest that students with EBD would benefit more from social skills instruction that is tailored to each student’s individual skill deficits and that focuses on skills valued by both the students and their teachers.


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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