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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

  • The Research Problem/Question
  • Purpose of Guide
  • Design Flaws to Avoid
  • Independent and Dependent Variables
  • Glossary of Research Terms
  • Reading Research Effectively
  • Narrowing a Topic Idea
  • Broadening a Topic Idea
  • Extending the Timeliness of a Topic Idea
  • Academic Writing Style
  • Choosing a Title
  • Making an Outline
  • Paragraph Development
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  • Executive Summary
  • The C.A.R.S. Model
  • Background Information
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Citation Tracking
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  • Evaluating Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tiertiary Sources
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications
  • Qualitative Methods
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Insiderness
  • Using Non-Textual Elements
  • Limitations of the Study
  • Common Grammar Mistakes
  • Writing Concisely
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Footnotes or Endnotes?
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A research problem is a definite or clear expression [statement] about an area of concern, a condition to be improved upon, a difficulty to be eliminated, or a troubling question that exists in scholarly literature, in theory, or within existing practice that points to a need for meaningful understanding and deliberate investigation. A research problem does not state how to do something, offer a vague or broad proposition, or present a value question. In the social and behavioral sciences, studies are most often framed around examining a problem that needs to be understood and resolved in order to improve society and the human condition.

Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 10 (2007): 5-20; Guba, Egon G., and Yvonna S. Lincoln. “Competing Paradigms in Qualitative Research.” In Handbook of Qualitative Research . Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, editors. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994), pp. 105-117; Pardede, Parlindungan. “Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem." Research in ELT: Module 4 (October 2018): 1-13; Li, Yanmei, and Sumei Zhang. "Identifying the Research Problem." In Applied Research Methods in Urban and Regional Planning . (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2022), pp. 13-21.

Importance of...

The purpose of a problem statement is to:

  • Introduce the reader to the importance of the topic being studied . The reader is oriented to the significance of the study.
  • Anchors the research questions, hypotheses, or assumptions to follow . It offers a concise statement about the purpose of your paper.
  • Place the topic into a particular context that defines the parameters of what is to be investigated.
  • Provide the framework for reporting the results and indicates what is probably necessary to conduct the study and explain how the findings will present this information.

In the social sciences, the research problem establishes the means by which you must answer the "So What?" question. This declarative question refers to a research problem surviving the relevancy test [the quality of a measurement procedure that provides repeatability and accuracy]. Note that answering the "So What?" question requires a commitment on your part to not only show that you have reviewed the literature, but that you have thoroughly considered the significance of the research problem and its implications applied to creating new knowledge and understanding or informing practice.

To survive the "So What" question, problem statements should possess the following attributes:

  • Clarity and precision [a well-written statement does not make sweeping generalizations and irresponsible pronouncements; it also does include unspecific determinates like "very" or "giant"],
  • Demonstrate a researchable topic or issue [i.e., feasibility of conducting the study is based upon access to information that can be effectively acquired, gathered, interpreted, synthesized, and understood],
  • Identification of what would be studied, while avoiding the use of value-laden words and terms,
  • Identification of an overarching question or small set of questions accompanied by key factors or variables,
  • Identification of key concepts and terms,
  • Articulation of the study's conceptual boundaries or parameters or limitations,
  • Some generalizability in regards to applicability and bringing results into general use,
  • Conveyance of the study's importance, benefits, and justification [i.e., regardless of the type of research, it is important to demonstrate that the research is not trivial],
  • Does not have unnecessary jargon or overly complex sentence constructions; and,
  • Conveyance of more than the mere gathering of descriptive data providing only a snapshot of the issue or phenomenon under investigation.

Bryman, Alan. “The Research Question in Social Research: What is its Role?” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 10 (2007): 5-20; Brown, Perry J., Allen Dyer, and Ross S. Whaley. "Recreation Research—So What?" Journal of Leisure Research 5 (1973): 16-24; Castellanos, Susie. Critical Writing and Thinking. The Writing Center. Dean of the College. Brown University; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. "Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem." Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Selwyn, Neil. "‘So What?’…A Question that Every Journal Article Needs to Answer." Learning, Media, and Technology 39 (2014): 1-5; Shoket, Mohd. "Research Problem: Identification and Formulation." International Journal of Research 1 (May 2014): 512-518.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Types and Content

There are four general conceptualizations of a research problem in the social sciences:

  • Casuist Research Problem -- this type of problem relates to the determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by analyzing moral dilemmas through the application of general rules and the careful distinction of special cases.
  • Difference Research Problem -- typically asks the question, “Is there a difference between two or more groups or treatments?” This type of problem statement is used when the researcher compares or contrasts two or more phenomena. This a common approach to defining a problem in the clinical social sciences or behavioral sciences.
  • Descriptive Research Problem -- typically asks the question, "what is...?" with the underlying purpose to describe the significance of a situation, state, or existence of a specific phenomenon. This problem is often associated with revealing hidden or understudied issues.
  • Relational Research Problem -- suggests a relationship of some sort between two or more variables to be investigated. The underlying purpose is to investigate specific qualities or characteristics that may be connected in some way.

A problem statement in the social sciences should contain :

  • A lead-in that helps ensure the reader will maintain interest over the study,
  • A declaration of originality [e.g., mentioning a knowledge void or a lack of clarity about a topic that will be revealed in the literature review of prior research],
  • An indication of the central focus of the study [establishing the boundaries of analysis], and
  • An explanation of the study's significance or the benefits to be derived from investigating the research problem.

NOTE :   A statement describing the research problem of your paper should not be viewed as a thesis statement that you may be familiar with from high school. Given the content listed above, a description of the research problem is usually a short paragraph in length.

II.  Sources of Problems for Investigation

The identification of a problem to study can be challenging, not because there's a lack of issues that could be investigated, but due to the challenge of formulating an academically relevant and researchable problem which is unique and does not simply duplicate the work of others. To facilitate how you might select a problem from which to build a research study, consider these sources of inspiration:

Deductions from Theory This relates to deductions made from social philosophy or generalizations embodied in life and in society that the researcher is familiar with. These deductions from human behavior are then placed within an empirical frame of reference through research. From a theory, the researcher can formulate a research problem or hypothesis stating the expected findings in certain empirical situations. The research asks the question: “What relationship between variables will be observed if theory aptly summarizes the state of affairs?” One can then design and carry out a systematic investigation to assess whether empirical data confirm or reject the hypothesis, and hence, the theory.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives Identifying a problem that forms the basis for a research study can come from academic movements and scholarship originating in disciplines outside of your primary area of study. This can be an intellectually stimulating exercise. A review of pertinent literature should include examining research from related disciplines that can reveal new avenues of exploration and analysis. An interdisciplinary approach to selecting a research problem offers an opportunity to construct a more comprehensive understanding of a very complex issue that any single discipline may be able to provide.

Interviewing Practitioners The identification of research problems about particular topics can arise from formal interviews or informal discussions with practitioners who provide insight into new directions for future research and how to make research findings more relevant to practice. Discussions with experts in the field, such as, teachers, social workers, health care providers, lawyers, business leaders, etc., offers the chance to identify practical, “real world” problems that may be understudied or ignored within academic circles. This approach also provides some practical knowledge which may help in the process of designing and conducting your study.

Personal Experience Don't undervalue your everyday experiences or encounters as worthwhile problems for investigation. Think critically about your own experiences and/or frustrations with an issue facing society or related to your community, your neighborhood, your family, or your personal life. This can be derived, for example, from deliberate observations of certain relationships for which there is no clear explanation or witnessing an event that appears harmful to a person or group or that is out of the ordinary.

Relevant Literature The selection of a research problem can be derived from a thorough review of pertinent research associated with your overall area of interest. This may reveal where gaps exist in understanding a topic or where an issue has been understudied. Research may be conducted to: 1) fill such gaps in knowledge; 2) evaluate if the methodologies employed in prior studies can be adapted to solve other problems; or, 3) determine if a similar study could be conducted in a different subject area or applied in a different context or to different study sample [i.e., different setting or different group of people]. Also, authors frequently conclude their studies by noting implications for further research; read the conclusion of pertinent studies because statements about further research can be a valuable source for identifying new problems to investigate. The fact that a researcher has identified a topic worthy of further exploration validates the fact it is worth pursuing.

III.  What Makes a Good Research Statement?

A good problem statement begins by introducing the broad area in which your research is centered, gradually leading the reader to the more specific issues you are investigating. The statement need not be lengthy, but a good research problem should incorporate the following features:

1.  Compelling Topic The problem chosen should be one that motivates you to address it but simple curiosity is not a good enough reason to pursue a research study because this does not indicate significance. The problem that you choose to explore must be important to you, but it must also be viewed as important by your readers and to a the larger academic and/or social community that could be impacted by the results of your study. 2.  Supports Multiple Perspectives The problem must be phrased in a way that avoids dichotomies and instead supports the generation and exploration of multiple perspectives. A general rule of thumb in the social sciences is that a good research problem is one that would generate a variety of viewpoints from a composite audience made up of reasonable people. 3.  Researchability This isn't a real word but it represents an important aspect of creating a good research statement. It seems a bit obvious, but you don't want to find yourself in the midst of investigating a complex research project and realize that you don't have enough prior research to draw from for your analysis. There's nothing inherently wrong with original research, but you must choose research problems that can be supported, in some way, by the resources available to you. If you are not sure if something is researchable, don't assume that it isn't if you don't find information right away--seek help from a librarian !

NOTE:   Do not confuse a research problem with a research topic. A topic is something to read and obtain information about, whereas a problem is something to be solved or framed as a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution, or explained as a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation. In short, a research topic is something to be understood; a research problem is something that needs to be investigated.

IV.  Asking Analytical Questions about the Research Problem

Research problems in the social and behavioral sciences are often analyzed around critical questions that must be investigated. These questions can be explicitly listed in the introduction [i.e., "This study addresses three research questions about women's psychological recovery from domestic abuse in multi-generational home settings..."], or, the questions are implied in the text as specific areas of study related to the research problem. Explicitly listing your research questions at the end of your introduction can help in designing a clear roadmap of what you plan to address in your study, whereas, implicitly integrating them into the text of the introduction allows you to create a more compelling narrative around the key issues under investigation. Either approach is appropriate.

The number of questions you attempt to address should be based on the complexity of the problem you are investigating and what areas of inquiry you find most critical to study. Practical considerations, such as, the length of the paper you are writing or the availability of resources to analyze the issue can also factor in how many questions to ask. In general, however, there should be no more than four research questions underpinning a single research problem.

Given this, well-developed analytical questions can focus on any of the following:

  • Highlights a genuine dilemma, area of ambiguity, or point of confusion about a topic open to interpretation by your readers;
  • Yields an answer that is unexpected and not obvious rather than inevitable and self-evident;
  • Provokes meaningful thought or discussion;
  • Raises the visibility of the key ideas or concepts that may be understudied or hidden;
  • Suggests the need for complex analysis or argument rather than a basic description or summary; and,
  • Offers a specific path of inquiry that avoids eliciting generalizations about the problem.

NOTE:   Questions of how and why concerning a research problem often require more analysis than questions about who, what, where, and when. You should still ask yourself these latter questions, however. Thinking introspectively about the who, what, where, and when of a research problem can help ensure that you have thoroughly considered all aspects of the problem under investigation and helps define the scope of the study in relation to the problem.

V.  Mistakes to Avoid

Beware of circular reasoning! Do not state the research problem as simply the absence of the thing you are suggesting. For example, if you propose the following, "The problem in this community is that there is no hospital," this only leads to a research problem where:

  • The need is for a hospital
  • The objective is to create a hospital
  • The method is to plan for building a hospital, and
  • The evaluation is to measure if there is a hospital or not.

This is an example of a research problem that fails the "So What?" test . In this example, the problem does not reveal the relevance of why you are investigating the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., perhaps there's a hospital in the community ten miles away]; it does not elucidate the significance of why one should study the fact there is no hospital in the community [e.g., that hospital in the community ten miles away has no emergency room]; the research problem does not offer an intellectual pathway towards adding new knowledge or clarifying prior knowledge [e.g., the county in which there is no hospital already conducted a study about the need for a hospital, but it was conducted ten years ago]; and, the problem does not offer meaningful outcomes that lead to recommendations that can be generalized for other situations or that could suggest areas for further research [e.g., the challenges of building a new hospital serves as a case study for other communities].

Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. “Generating Research Questions Through Problematization.” Academy of Management Review 36 (April 2011): 247-271 ; Choosing and Refining Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; D'Souza, Victor S. "Use of Induction and Deduction in Research in Social Sciences: An Illustration." Journal of the Indian Law Institute 24 (1982): 655-661; Ellis, Timothy J. and Yair Levy Nova. "Framework of Problem-Based Research: A Guide for Novice Researchers on the Development of a Research-Worthy Problem." Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline 11 (2008); How to Write a Research Question. The Writing Center. George Mason University; Invention: Developing a Thesis Statement. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Problem Statements PowerPoint Presentation. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Procter, Margaret. Using Thesis Statements. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Shoket, Mohd. "Research Problem: Identification and Formulation." International Journal of Research 1 (May 2014): 512-518; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006; Thesis and Purpose Statements. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Thesis Statements. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Pardede, Parlindungan. “Identifying and Formulating the Research Problem." Research in ELT: Module 4 (October 2018): 1-13; Walk, Kerry. Asking an Analytical Question. [Class handout or worksheet]. Princeton University; White, Patrick. Developing Research Questions: A Guide for Social Scientists . New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2009; Li, Yanmei, and Sumei Zhang. "Identifying the Research Problem." In Applied Research Methods in Urban and Regional Planning . (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2022), pp. 13-21.

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  • URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide
  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published: 07 October 2020

Impact of social problem-solving training on critical thinking and decision making of nursing students

  • Soleiman Ahmady 1 &
  • Sara Shahbazi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8397-6233 2 , 3  

BMC Nursing volume  19 , Article number:  94 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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The complex health system and challenging patient care environment require experienced nurses, especially those with high cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision- making and critical thinking. Therefore, this study investigated the impact of social problem-solving training on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making.

This study was quasi-experimental research and pre-test and post-test design and performed on 40 undergraduate/four-year students of nursing in Borujen Nursing School/Iran that was randomly divided into 2 groups; experimental ( n  = 20) and control (n = 20). Then, a social problem-solving course was held for the experimental group. A demographic questionnaire, social problem-solving inventory-revised, California critical thinking test, and decision-making questionnaire was used to collect the information. The reliability and validity of all of them were confirmed. Data analysis was performed using SPSS software and independent sampled T-test, paired T-test, square chi, and Pearson correlation coefficient.

The finding indicated that the social problem-solving course positively affected the student’ social problem-solving and decision-making and critical thinking skills after the instructional course in the experimental group ( P  < 0.05), but this result was not observed in the control group ( P  > 0.05).


The results showed that structured social problem-solving training could improve cognitive problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. Considering this result, nursing education should be presented using new strategies and creative and different ways from traditional education methods. Cognitive skills training should be integrated in the nursing curriculum. Therefore, training cognitive skills such as problem- solving to nursing students is recommended.

Peer Review reports

Continuous monitoring and providing high-quality care to patients is one of the main tasks of nurses. Nurses’ roles are diverse and include care, educational, supportive, and interventional roles when dealing with patients’ clinical problems [ 1 , 2 ].

Providing professional nursing services requires the cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking, and information synthesis [ 3 ].

Problem-solving is an essential skill in nursing. Improving this skill is very important for nurses because it is an intellectual process which requires the reflection and creative thinking [ 4 ].

Problem-solving skill means acquiring knowledge to reach a solution, and a person’s ability to use this knowledge to find a solution requires critical thinking. The promotion of these skills is considered a necessary condition for nurses’ performance in the nursing profession [ 5 , 6 ].

Managing the complexities and challenges of health systems requires competent nurses with high levels of critical thinking skills. A nurse’s critical thinking skills can affect patient safety because it enables nurses to correctly diagnose the patient’s initial problem and take the right action for the right reason [ 4 , 7 , 8 ].

Problem-solving and decision-making are complex and difficult processes for nurses, because they have to care for multiple patients with different problems in complex and unpredictable treatment environments [ 9 , 10 ].

Clinical decision making is an important element of professional nursing care; nurses’ ability to form effective clinical decisions is the most significant issue affecting the care standard. Nurses build 2 kinds of choices associated with the practice: patient care decisions that affect direct patient care and occupational decisions that affect the work context or teams [ 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 ].

The utilization of nursing process guarantees the provision of professional and effective care. The nursing process provides nurses with the chance to learn problem-solving skills through teamwork, health management, and patient care. Problem-solving is at the heart of nursing process which is why this skill underlies all nursing practices. Therefore, proper training of this skill in an undergraduate nursing program is essential [ 17 ].

Nursing students face unique problems which are specific to the clinical and therapeutic environment, causing a lot of stresses during clinical education. This stress can affect their problem- solving skills [ 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 ]. They need to promote their problem-solving and critical thinking skills to meet the complex needs of current healthcare settings and should be able to respond to changing circumstances and apply knowledge and skills in different clinical situations [ 22 ]. Institutions should provide this important opportunity for them.

Despite, the results of studies in nursing students show the weakness of their problem-solving skills, while in complex health environments and exposure to emerging diseases, nurses need to diagnose problems and solve them rapidly accurately. The teaching of these skills should begin in college and continue in health care environments [ 5 , 23 , 24 ].

It should not be forgotten that in addition to the problems caused by the patients’ disease, a large proportion of the problems facing nurses are related to the procedures of the natural life of their patients and their families, the majority of nurses with the rest of health team and the various roles defined for nurses [ 25 ].

Therefore, in addition to above- mentioned issues, other ability is required to deal with common problems in the working environment for nurses, the skill is “social problem solving”, because the term social problem-solving includes a method of problem-solving in the “natural context” or the “real world” [ 26 , 27 ]. In reviewing the existing research literature on the competencies and skills required by nursing students, what attracts a lot of attention is the weakness of basic skills and the lack of formal and systematic training of these skills in the nursing curriculum, it indicates a gap in this area [ 5 , 24 , 25 ]. In this regard, the researchers tried to reduce this significant gap by holding a formal problem-solving skills training course, emphasizing the common social issues in the real world of work. Therefore, this study was conducted to investigate the impact of social problem-solving skills training on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making.

Setting and sample

This quasi-experimental study with pretest and post-test design was performed on 40 undergraduate/four-year nursing students in Borujen nursing school in Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences. The periods of data collection were 4 months.

According to the fact that senior students of nursing have passed clinical training and internship programs, they have more familiarity with wards and treatment areas, patients and issues in treatment areas and also they have faced the problems which the nurses have with other health team personnel and patients and their families, they have been chosen for this study. Therefore, this study’s sampling method was based on the purpose, and the sample size was equal to the total population. The whole of four-year nursing students participated in this study and the sample size was 40 members. Participants was randomly divided in 2 groups; experimental ( n  = 20) and control (n = 20).

The inclusion criteria to take part in the present research were students’ willingness to take part, studying in the four-year nursing, not having the record of psychological sickness or using the related drugs (all based on their self-utterance).


At the beginning of study, all students completed the demographic information’ questionnaire. The study’s intervening variables were controlled between the two groups [such as age, marital status, work experience, training courses, psychological illness, psychiatric medication use and improving cognitive skills courses (critical thinking, problem- solving, and decision making in the last 6 months)]. Both groups were homogeneous in terms of demographic variables ( P  > 0.05). Decision making and critical thinking skills and social problem solving of participants in 2 groups was evaluated before and 1 month after the intervention.

All questionnaires were anonymous and had an identification code which carefully distributed by the researcher.

To control the transfer of information among the students of two groups, the classification list of students for internships, provided by the head of nursing department at the beginning of semester, was used.

Furthermore, the groups with the odd number of experimental group and the groups with the even number formed the control group and thus were less in contact with each other.

The importance of not transferring information among groups was fully described to the experimental group. They were asked not to provide any information about the course to the students of the control group.

Then, training a course of social problem-solving skills for the experimental group, given in a separate course and the period from the nursing curriculum and was held in 8 sessions during 2 months, using small group discussion, brainstorming, case-based discussion, and reaching the solution in small 4 member groups, taking results of the social problem-solving model as mentioned by D-zurilla and gold fried [ 26 ]. The instructor was an assistant professor of university and had a history of teaching problem-solving courses. This model’ stages are explained in Table  1 .

All training sessions were performed due to the model, and one step of the model was implemented in each session. In each session, the teacher stated the educational objectives and asked the students to share their experiences in dealing to various workplace problems, home and community due to the topic of session. Besides, in each session, a case-based scenario was presented and thoroughly analyzed, and students discussed it.


In this study, the data were collected using demographic variables questionnaire and social problem- solving inventory – revised (SPSI-R) developed by D’zurilla and Nezu (2002) [ 26 ], California critical thinking skills test- form B (CCTST; 1994) [ 27 , 28 ] and decision-making questionnaire.

SPSI-R is a self - reporting tool with 52 questions ranging from a Likert scale (1: Absolutely not – 5: very much).

The minimum score maybe 25 and at a maximum of 125, therefore:

The score 25 and 50: weak social problem-solving skills.

The score 50–75: moderate social problem-solving skills.

The score higher of 75: strong social problem-solving skills.

The reliability assessed by repeated tests is between 0.68 and 0.91, and its alpha coefficient between 0.69 and 0.95 was reported [ 26 ]. The structural validity of questionnaire has also been confirmed. All validity analyses have confirmed SPSI as a social problem - solving scale.

In Iran, the alpha coefficient of 0.85 is measured for five factors, and the retest reliability coefficient was obtained 0.88. All of the narratives analyzes confirmed SPSI as a social problem- solving scale [ 29 ].

California critical thinking skills test- form B(CCTST; 1994): This test is a standard tool for assessing the basic skills of critical thinking at the high school and higher education levels (Facione & Facione, 1992, 1998) [ 27 ].

This tool has 34 multiple-choice questions which assessed analysis, inference, and argument evaluation. Facione and Facione (1993) reported that a KR-20 range of 0.65 to 0.75 for this tool is acceptable [ 27 ].

In Iran, the KR-20 for the total scale was 0.62. This coefficient is acceptable for questionnaires that measure the level of thinking ability of individuals.

After changing the English names of this questionnaire to Persian, its content validity was approved by the Board of Experts.

The subscale analysis of Persian version of CCTST showed a positive high level of correlation between total test score and the components (analysis, r = 0.61; evaluation, r = 0.71; inference, r = 0.88; inductive reasoning, r = 0.73; and deductive reasoning, r = 0.74) [ 28 ].

A decision-making questionnaire with 20 questions was used to measure decision-making skills. This questionnaire was made by a researcher and was prepared under the supervision of a professor with psychometric expertise. Five professors confirmed the face and content validity of this questionnaire. The reliability was obtained at 0.87 which confirmed for 30 students using the test-retest method at a time interval of 2 weeks. Each question had four levels and a score from 0.25 to 1. The minimum score of this questionnaire was 5, and the maximum score was 20 [ 30 ].

Statistical analysis

For analyzing the applied data, the SPSS Version 16, and descriptive statistics tests, independent sample T-test, paired T-test, Pearson correlation coefficient, and square chi were used. The significant level was taken P  < 0.05.

The average age of students was 21.7 ± 1.34, and the academic average total score was 16.32 ± 2.83. Other demographic characteristics are presented in Table  2 .

None of the students had a history of psychiatric illness or psychiatric drug use. Findings obtained from the chi-square test showed that there is not any significant difference between the two groups statistically in terms of demographic variables.

The mean scores in social decision making, critical thinking, and decision-making in whole samples before intervention showed no significant difference between the two groups statistically ( P  > 0.05), but showed a significant difference after the intervention ( P  < 0.05) (Table  3 ).

Scores in Table  4 showed a significant positive difference before and after intervention in the “experimental” group ( P  < 0.05), but this difference was not seen in the control group ( P  > 0.05).

Among the demographic variables, only a positive relationship was seen between marital status and decision-making skills (r = 0.72, P  < 0.05).

Also, the scores of critical thinking skill’ subgroups and social problem solving’ subgroups are presented in Tables  5 and 6 which showed a significant positive difference before and after intervention in the “experimental” group (P < 0.05), but this difference was not seen in the control group ( P  > 0.05).

In the present study conducted by some studies, problem-solving and critical thinking and decision-making scores of nursing students are moderate [ 5 , 24 , 31 ].

The results showed that problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and decision-making in nursing students were promoted through a social problem-solving training course. Unfortunately, no study has examined the effect of teaching social problem-solving skills on nursing students’ critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Altun (2018) believes that if the values of truth and human dignity are promoted in students, it will help them acquire problem-solving skills. Free discussion between students and faculty on value topics can lead to the development of students’ information processing in values. Developing self-awareness increases students’ impartiality and problem-solving ability [ 5 ]. The results of this study are consistent to the results of present study.

Erozkan (2017), in his study, reported there is a significant relationship between social problem solving and social self-efficacy and the sub-dimensions of social problem solving [ 32 ]. In the present study, social problem -solving skills training has improved problem -solving skills and its subdivisions.

The results of study by Moshirabadi (2015) showed that the mean score of total problem-solving skills was 89.52 ± 21.58 and this average was lower in fourth-year students than other students. He explained that education should improve students’ problem-solving skills. Because nursing students with advanced problem-solving skills are vital to today’s evolving society [ 22 ]. In the present study, the results showed students’ weakness in the skills in question, and holding a social problem-solving skills training course could increase the level of these skills.

Çinar (2010) reported midwives and nurses are expected to use problem-solving strategies and effective decision-making in their work, using rich basic knowledge.

These skills should be developed throughout one’s profession. The results of this study showed that academic education could increase problem-solving skills of nursing and midwifery students, and final year students have higher skill levels [ 23 ].

Bayani (2012) reported that the ability to solve social problems has a determining role in mental health. Problem-solving training can lead to a level upgrade of mental health and quality of life [ 33 ]; These results agree with the results obtained in our study.

Conducted by this study, Kocoglu (2016) reported nurses’ understanding of their problem-solving skills is moderate. Receiving advice and support from qualified nursing managers and educators can enhance this skill and positively impact their behavior [ 31 ].

Kashaninia (2015), in her study, reported teaching critical thinking skills can promote critical thinking and the application of rational decision-making styles by nurses.

One of the main components of sound performance in nursing is nurses’ ability to process information and make good decisions; these abilities themselves require critical thinking. Therefore, universities should envisage educational and supportive programs emphasizing critical thinking to cultivate their students’ professional competencies, decision-making, problem-solving, and self-efficacy [ 34 ].

The study results of Kirmizi (2015) also showed a moderate positive relationship between critical thinking and problem-solving skills [ 35 ].

Hong (2015) reported that using continuing PBL training promotes reflection and critical thinking in clinical nurses. Applying brainstorming in PBL increases the motivation to participate collaboratively and encourages teamwork. Learners become familiar with different perspectives on patients’ problems and gain a more comprehensive understanding. Achieving these competencies is the basis of clinical decision-making in nursing. The dynamic and ongoing involvement of clinical staff can bridge the gap between theory and practice [ 36 ].

Ancel (2016) emphasizes that structured and managed problem-solving training can increase students’ confidence in applying problem-solving skills and help them achieve self-confidence. He reported that nursing students want to be taught in more innovative ways than traditional teaching methods which cognitive skills training should be included in their curriculum. To this end, university faculties and lecturers should believe in the importance of strategies used in teaching and the richness of educational content offered to students [ 17 ].

The results of these recent studies are adjusted with the finding of recent research and emphasize the importance of structured teaching cognitive skills to nurses and nursing students.

Based on the results of this study on improving critical thinking and decision-making skills in the intervention group, researchers guess the reasons to achieve the results of study in the following cases:

In nursing internationally, problem-solving skills (PS) have been introduced as a key strategy for better patient care [ 17 ]. Problem-solving can be defined as a self-oriented cognitive-behavioral process used to identify or discover effective solutions to a special problem in everyday life. In particular, the application of this cognitive-behavioral methodology identifies a wide range of possible effective solutions to a particular problem and enhancement the likelihood of selecting the most effective solution from among the various options [ 27 ].

In social problem-solving theory, there is a difference among the concepts of problem-solving and solution implementation, because the concepts of these two processes are different, and in practice, they require different skills.

In the problem-solving process, we seek to find solutions to specific problems, while in the implementation of solution, the process of implementing those solutions in the real problematic situation is considered [ 25 , 26 ].

The use of D’zurilla and Goldfride’s social problem-solving model was effective in achieving the study results because of its theoretical foundations and the usage of the principles of cognitive reinforcement skills. Social problem solving is considered an intellectual, logical, effort-based, and deliberate activity [ 26 , 32 ]; therefore, using this model can also affect other skills that need recognition.

In this study, problem-solving training from case studies and group discussion methods, brainstorming, and activity in small groups, was used.

There are significant educational achievements in using small- group learning strategies. The limited number of learners in each group increases the interaction between learners, instructors, and content. In this way, the teacher will be able to predict activities and apply techniques that will lead students to achieve high cognitive taxonomy levels. That is, confront students with assignments and activities that force them to use cognitive processes such as analysis, reasoning, evaluation, and criticism.

In small groups, students are given the opportunity to the enquiry, discuss differences of opinion, and come up with solutions. This method creates a comprehensive understanding of the subject for the student [ 36 ].

According to the results, social problem solving increases the nurses’ decision-making ability and critical thinking regarding identifying the patient’s needs and choosing the best nursing procedures. According to what was discussed, the implementation of this intervention in larger groups and in different levels of education by teaching other cognitive skills and examining their impact on other cognitive skills of nursing students, in the future, is recommended.

Social problem- solving training by affecting critical thinking skills and decision-making of nursing students increases patient safety. It improves the quality of care because patients’ needs are better identified and analyzed, and the best solutions are adopted to solve the problem.

In the end, the implementation of this intervention in larger groups in different levels of education by teaching other cognitive skills and examining their impact on other cognitive skills of nursing students in the future is recommended.

Study limitations

This study was performed on fourth-year nursing students, but the students of other levels should be studied during a cohort from the beginning to the end of course to monitor the cognitive skills improvement.

The promotion of high-level cognitive skills is one of the main goals of higher education. It is very necessary to adopt appropriate approaches to improve the level of thinking. According to this study results, the teachers and planners are expected to use effective approaches and models such as D’zurilla and Goldfride social problem solving to improve problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making skills. What has been confirmed in this study is that the routine training in the control group should, as it should, has not been able to improve the students’ critical thinking skills, and the traditional educational system needs to be transformed and reviewed to achieve this goal.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and analyzed during the present study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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This article results from research project No. 980 approved by the Research and Technology Department of Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences. We would like to appreciate to all personnel and students of the Borujen Nursing School. The efforts of all those who assisted us throughout this research.

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SA and SSH conceptualized the study, developed the proposal, coordinated the project, completed initial data entry and analysis, and wrote the report. SSH conducted the statistical analyses. SA and SSH assisted in writing and editing the final report. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Ahmady, S., Shahbazi, S. Impact of social problem-solving training on critical thinking and decision making of nursing students. BMC Nurs 19 , 94 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-020-00487-x

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problem solving social research

problem solving social research

Research to Solve Problems

The 2023 SSRC Centennial Lectures showcased a shared focus on not only describing problems, but also finding solutions to those problems. SSRC President Anna Harvey reflects on what it means to pursue research designed to solve problems, and how the SSRC can most effectively support problem-solving research.

During 2023, the Centennial year for the Social Science Research Council, we hosted ten Centennial lectures showcasing recent social and behavioral science on ten social problems central to the Council’s 100-year history of work: immigration , social insurance , racial discrimination , economic development , the green revolution , education , persistent poverty , climate change , democracy , and pandemic response (the recorded lectures are all available here ). A striking feature of these lectures was a shared focus on not only describing problems, but also finding solutions to those problems.

What does it mean to solve problems using social and behavioral science? In the first instance, the researchers who gave our Centennial lectures had all identified patterns of human decision making on questions such as migration, health, or employment that presented problems, in the sense that there plausibly existed decisions that could produce better outcomes for more people: e.g., higher incomes, less disease, less conflict. Further, these problems of decision making were all potentially responsive to the resources generally available to large organizations: e.g., money, information, attention, status. Alternative allocations of these resources could potentially shift decision making in ways that produced more societally beneficial outcomes. The researchers who gave our Centennial lectures were all looking for interventions that, by leveraging alternative allocations of available resources, could induce more societally beneficial decisions and actions.

But our Centennial lecturers weren’t seeking just any interventions that would work in this way. They were looking for effective interventions with a decent chance of being implemented into policy and practice at scale. From the very beginning of their research projects, they had looked down the path from identifying a problem of decision making, to developing a potential solution, to evaluating that solution, to implementation at scale by large-footprint organizations–governments, firms, large NGOs–and had designed their projects so as to maximize their chances of success at the end of that path. 

The interventions that were likely to be both effective and adopted at scale shared similar features, features that have also been identified in the implementation science literature: they were likely to be low cost, and not increasing in cost as they were scaled to larger populations ( Kremer et al 2021 , List 2022 ). They were likely to have been developed by or in partnership with a client organization, and designed to be integrated into the organization’s existing workflow ( Kremer et al 2021 , DellaVigna et al 2022 , Bonargent 2023 ). Their effectiveness was likely to have been evaluated using rigorous methods, including in some cases multiple small-scale evaluations, to guard against single-trial false positives at the pilot stage ( Kremer et al 2021 , List 2022 ).

Designing problem-solving research with implementation in mind at inception has clear benefits in a world of scarce research funds for social and behavioral science . Spending valuable research funds on evaluating potential solutions that have little chance of being implemented at scale, even if effective in small samples (e.g., because of increasing marginal costs), is not an efficient use of the research community’s limited resources. Building feasible implementation into research designs at inception is a potentially more cost-effective way to spend our scarce funding resources.

As we enter the Social Science Research Council’s second century of work, we have been reflecting on how the Council can best support social and behavioral science aimed at solving important problems. We have been reading the research on the research-to-policy pipeline, and have found much there that can guide our work. Our new website features the research undergirding our programs to support problem-solving social and behavioral science:

  • we support fellowships giving researchers the time and freedom to pursue novel ideas, because unrestricted research funds are more likely to result in innovative policy solutions;
  • we administer research grants underwriting the evaluation of new policy solutions, because rigorous evaluation increases the likelihood that effective solutions will be implemented at scale; 
  • we host in-person convenings to share research-backed policy solutions with stakeholders and to incubate new research agendas, because such events lead to increased evidence uptake and to more productive collaborations; 
  • we produce curated and accessible online knowledge platforms and technical reports , because these communication strategies increase the likelihood that research-based policy solutions will be widely adopted; 
  • we offer mentoring programs to researchers underrepresented in their disciplines, because mentoring is a proven strategy to broaden problem-solving research opportunities.

As we launch the Council’s second century, we also look forward to engaging with new research on problem solving. This year’s College and University Fund Lecture Series will showcase new research illuminating practices increasing the likelihood that research-backed solutions will be implemented at scale; we look forward to sharing more information about this lecture series.

And finally, in 2024 we will be exploring new strategies to deploy the SSRC’s Agenda Fund to provide opportunities for researchers to use social and behavioral science to innovate new solutions to our most pressing social problems. Stay tuned for announcements of these upcoming opportunities.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive New Year!

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2.4 Research Methods for Social Problems

Theories discuss the why of particular social problems. They begin to systematically explain, for example, why socioeconomic class is prevalent in industrialized societies, or why implicit bias is so common. But how do sociologists develop the theories in the first place or figure out if the theories are useful? For that, they must observe people interacting, and collect data. The ways in which social scientists collect, analyze, and understand research information are called research methods.

However, science isn’t the only way to understand the world. You may experience many more ways of knowing. When you consider why you know something, this knowledge may be based on different sources or experiences. You may know when the movie starts because a friend told you, or because you looked it up on Google. You may know that rain is currently falling because you feel it on your head. You may know that it is wrong to kill another person because it is a belief in your religious tradition or part of your own ethical understanding. You may know because you have a gut feeling that a situation is dangerous, or a choice is the right one. You may know that your friend will be late to class because past experience predicts it. Or, instead of the past, you can imagine the future, knowing that eating a hamburger will satisfy your hunger, just by seeing the picture on the menu. Finally, you may know something because the language you use supports you in noticing particular details. For example, how many ways can you describe the water that falls from the sky? People who live in Oregon, for instance, use several distinct words for rainy weather: drizzle, downpour, showers. Partly cloudy doesn’t change their plans, but they may throw a jacket in the car. In other regions, it may be more useful to describe snow or heat in great detail. The formation of language itself structures how you know something. The table in figure 2.23 organizes these ways of knowing.

Figure 2.23 Ways of Knowing and Examples

Each of these ways of knowing is useful, depending on the circumstances. For example, when my wife and I bought our house, we did research on home prices, home loans, and market value—reason. We talked about what home felt like to us—emotion. We walked through houses and pictured what life would look like in a particular house—imagination. Ultimately, when we drove down the cedar and fir-lined driveway, welcomed by the warm light through the window—sense perception—we turned to each other and said, “I hope this house is still for sale,” because we both knew we had found our home—intuition.

Of all of these ways of knowing, though, reason allows us to use logic and evidence to draw conclusions about what is true. Reason, as used in science, is unique among all of the ways of knowing because it allows us to propose an idea about how a social situation might work, observe the situation, and find out whether our idea is correct. Sociology is a unique scientific approach to understanding people. Let’s explore this more deeply.

As you saw in Chapter 1, sociology is the systematic study of society and social interactions to understand our social world. Although sages, leaders, philosophers, and other wisdom holders have asked what makes a good life throughout human history, sociology applies scientific principles to understanding human behavior.

Like anthropologists, psychologists, and other social scientists, sociologists collect and analyze data in order to draw conclusions about human behavior. Although these fields often overlap and complement each other, sociologists focus most on the interaction of people in groups, communities, institutions, and interrelated systems.

More simply, sociologists study society, a group of people who live in a defined geographic area, who interact with one another, and who share a common culture. Sociologists study human interactions at the smallest micro unit of how parents and children bond, to the widest macro lens of what causes war throughout recorded history. They explore microaggressions, those small moments of interaction that reinforce prejudice in small but powerful ways. They also study the generationally persistent systems of systemic inequality. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage and the climate crisis worsens, sociologists turn even greater attention to global and planetary systems to understand and explain our interdependence.

2.4.1 The Scientific Method

Scientists use shared approaches for figuring out how the social world works. The most common method is known as the scientific method , an established scholarly research process that involves asking a question, researching existing sources, forming a hypothesis, designing a data collection method, gathering data, and drawing conclusions. Often this method is shown as a straight line. Scientists proceed in an orderly fashion, executing one step after the next.

In reality, the scientific method is a circular process rather than a straight line, as shown in figure 2.24. The circle helps us to see that science is driven by curiosity and that learnings at each step move us to the next step, in ongoing loops. This model allows for the creativity and collaboration that is essential in how we actually create new scientific understandings. Let’s dive deeper!

problem solving social research

Figure 2.24 The Scientific method as an ongoing process Figure 2.24 Image Description Step 1: Identify a Social Issue/Find a Research Topic and Ask a Question

The first step of the scientific method is to ask a question, select a problem, and identify the specific area of interest. The topic should be narrow enough to study within a geographic location and time frame. “Are societies capable of sustained happiness?” would be too vague. The question should also be broad enough to be of significance. “What do personal hygiene habits reveal about the values of students at XYZ High School?” would be too narrow. Sociologists strive to frame questions that examine well-defined patterns and relationships. Step 2: Review the Literature/Research Existing Sources

The next step researchers undertake is to conduct background research through a literature review, which is a review of any existing similar or related studies. A visit to the library, a thorough online search, and a survey of academic journals will uncover existing research about the topic of study. This step helps researchers gain a broad understanding of work previously conducted, identify gaps in understanding of the topic, and position their own research to build on prior knowledge. Researchers—including student researchers—are responsible for correctly citing existing sources they use in a study or that inform their work. While it is fine to borrow previously published material (as long as it enhances a unique viewpoint), it must be referenced properly.

To study crime, for example, a researcher might also sort through existing data from the court system, police database, and prison information. It’s important to examine this information in addition to existing research to determine how these resources might be used to fill holes in existing knowledge. Reviewing existing sources educates researchers and helps refine and improve a research study design. Step 3: Formulate a Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a testable educated guess about predicted outcomes between two or more variables. In sociology, the hypothesis will often predict how one form of human behavior influences another. For example, a hypothesis might be in the form of an “if, then statement.” Let’s relate this to our topic of crime: If unemployment increases, then the crime rate will increase.

In scientific research, we formulate hypotheses to include an independent variable (IV) , which is the cause of the change, and a dependent variable (DV) , which is the effect , or thing that is changed. In the example above, unemployment is the independent variable and the crime rate is the dependent variable.

In a sociological study, the researcher would establish one form of human behavior as the independent variable and observe the influence it has on a dependent variable. How does gender (the independent variable) affect the rate of income (the dependent variable)? How does one’s religion (the independent variable) affect family size (the dependent variable)? How is social class (the dependent variable) affected by level of education (the independent variable)?

Figure 2.25 Examples of dependent and independent variables. Typically, the independent variable causes the dependent variable to change in some way.

Taking an example from figure 2.25, a researcher might hypothesize that teaching children proper hygiene (the independent variable) will boost their sense of self-esteem (the dependent variable). Note, however, this hypothesis can also work the other way around. A sociologist might predict that increasing a child’s sense of self-esteem (the independent variable) will increase or improve habits of hygiene (now the dependent variable). Identifying the independent and dependent variables is very important. As the hygiene example shows, simply identifying two related topics or variables is not enough. Their prospective relationship must be part of the hypothesis. Step 4: Select a Research Method and Design a Study

Researchers select a research method that is appropriate to answer their research question in this step. Surveys, experiments, interviews, ethnography, and content analysis are just a few examples that researchers may use. You will learn more about these and other research methods later in this chapter. Typically your research question influences the type of methods that will be used. Step 5: Collect Data

Next the researcher collects data. Depending on the research design (step 4), the researcher will begin the process of collecting information on their research topic. After all the data is gathered, the researcher will be able to systematically organize and analyze the data. Step 6: Analyze the Data

After constructing the research design, sociologists collect, tabulate or categorize, and analyze data to formulate conclusions. If the analysis supports the hypothesis, researchers can discuss what this might mean. If the analysis does not support the hypothesis, researchers may consider repeating the study or think of ways to improve their procedure.

Even when results contradict a sociologist’s prediction of a study’s outcome, the results still contribute to sociological understanding. Sociologists analyze general patterns in response to a study, but they are equally interested in exceptions to patterns. In a study of education, for example, a researcher might predict that high school dropouts have a hard time finding rewarding careers. While many assume that the higher the education, the higher the salary and degree of career happiness, there are certainly exceptions. People with little education have had stunning careers, and people with advanced degrees have had trouble finding work. A sociologist prepares a hypothesis knowing that results may substantiate or contradict it. Step 7: Report Findings

Researchers report their results at conferences and in academic journals. These results are then subjected to the scrutiny of other sociologists in the field. Before the conclusions of a study become widely accepted, the studies are often repeated in the same or different environments. In this way, sociological theories and knowledge develop as the relationships between social phenomena are established in broader contexts and different circumstances.

If you still aren’t quite sure about how sociologists use the scientific method, you might enjoy “ The Scientific Method: Steps, Examples, Tips, and Exercise [YouTube Video] ,” which explores why people smile. It also reminds us that people have been using logic and evidence to explore the world for centuries. The video credits Ibn al-Haytham , an eleventh-century Arab Muslim scholar with pioneering the modern scientific method in his study of light and vision (figure 2.26). If the video makes you curious about the science behind why people smile, you might want to check out this current research related to gender and smiling in this article, “ Women smile more than men, but differences disappear when they are in the same role, Yale researcher finds .”

Ibn al-Hayatham

Figure 2.26 Drawing of Ibn al-Hayatham

You might remember that in Chapter 1 , we talked about human society like a forest. We said that individual trees did not exist in isolation. Instead, they were interdependent. They formed a living community. The video in figure 2.27 describes the science behind this knowledge. Please watch at least the first 10 minutes to see if you can discover all the steps of the scientific method that Canadian female scientist Suzanne Simard used in her revolutionary science.

Figure 2.27 Suzanne Simard: How Trees Talk To Each Other [YouTube Video]

2.4.2 Interpretive Framework

You may have noticed that most of the early recognized sociologists in this chapter were White wealthy men. Often, they looked at economics, poverty, and industrialization as their topics. They were committed to using the scientific method. Although women like Harriet Martineau and Jane Addams examined a wide range of social problems and acted on their research, science, even social science, was considered a domain of men. Even in 2020, women are only less than 30% of the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) workforce in the United States (American Association of University Women 2020).

Feminist scientists challenge this exclusion, and the kinds of science it creates. Feminist scientists argue that women and non-binary people belong everywhere in science.They belong in the laboratories and scientific offices. They belong in deciding what topics to study, so that social problems of gendered violence or maternal health are studied also. They belong as participants in research, so that findings apply to people of all gender identities. They belong in applying the results to doing something about social problems. In other words:

Feminists have detailed the historically gendered participation in the practice of science—the marginalization or exclusion of women from the profession and how their contributions have disappeared when they have participated. Feminists have also noted how the sciences have been slow to study women’s lives, bodies, and experiences. Thus from both the perspectives of the agents—the creators of scientific knowledge—and from the perspectives of the subjects of knowledge—the topics and interests focused on—the sciences often have not served women satisfactorily. (Crasnow 2020)

See figure description

Figure 2.28 NASA “human computer” Katherine Johnson watches the premiere of Hidden Figures after a reception where she was honored along with other members of the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center.

You may have seen the movie Hidden Figures or read the book. In figure 2.28, Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician, physicist, and space scientist, watches the premiere of the movie. In it, women, particularly Black women, were the computers for NASA, manually calculating all the math needed to launch and orbit rockets. However, politicians and leaders did not recognize their work. Even when they were creating equations and writing reports, women’s names didn’t go on the title pages.

The practice of science often excludes women and nonbinary people from leadership in research, research topics, and as research subjects. The feminist critque of the traditional scientific method, and other critiques around the process of doing traditional science created space for other frameworks to emerge.

One such framework is the interpretive framework. The interpretive framework is an approach that involves detailed understanding of a particular subject through observation or listening to people’s stories, not through hypothesis testing. Researchers try to understand social experiences from the point of view of the people who are experiencing them. They interview people or look at blogs, newspapers, or videos to discover what people say is happening, and how the people make sense of things. This in-depth understanding allows the researcher to create a new theory about human activity. The steps are similar to the scientific method, but not the same, as you see in figure 2.29.

See image description

Figure 2.29. Interpretive framework, Figure 2.29 I mage Description

White American researcher Brene Brown, who you will learn more about in Chapter 3 , describes the approach this way:

In grounded theory we don’t start with a problem or a hypothesis or a literature review, we start with a topic. We let the participants define the problem or their main concern about the topic, we develop a theory, and then we see how and where it fits in the literature. (Brown 2022)

In her own research she interviewed people who she considered resilient to understand how shame works. By listening to resilient people, she was able to develop a theory about how people recover from difficult situations in life. If you are interested in seeing her writing for yourself, check out this blog post on addressing social problems with the power of love: “ Doubling Down on Love .”

Even though both the traditional scientific method and the interpretive framework start with curiosity and questions, the people who practice science using the interpretive framework allow the data to tell its story. Using this method can lead to insightful and transformative results. You can find things you didn’t even know to expect, because you are listening to what the stories say.

2.4.3 Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods

In the video you saw in figure 2.20, Suzanne Simard describes the amazing science she does when she researches how trees talk to each other. The methods she uses, with the possible exception of bringing bear spray, don’t work very well when you study people. Instead social scientists use a variety of methods that allow them to explain and predict the social world. These research methods define how we do social science.

In this section, we examine some of the most common research methods. Research methods are often grouped into two categories: quantitative research , data collected in numerical form that can be counted and analyzed using statistics and qualitative research , non-numerical, descriptive data that is often subjective and based on what is experienced in a natural setting. These methods seem to contradict each other, but some of the strongest scientific studies combine both approaches. New research methods go beyond the two categories, exploring international and Indigenous knowledge, or doing research for the purpose of taking action. Surveys

Do you strongly agree? Agree? Neither agree or disagree? Disagree? Strongly disagree? You’ve probably completed your fair share of surveys, if you’ve heard this before. At some point, most people in the United States respond to some type of survey. The 2020 U.S. Census is an excellent example of a large-scale survey intended to gather sociological data. Since 1790, the United States has conducted a survey consisting of six questions to receive demographic data of the residents who live in the United States.

As a research method, a survey collects data from subjects who respond to a series of questions about behaviors and opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire or an interview. Surveys are one of the most widely used scientific research methods. The standard survey format allows individuals a level of anonymity in which they can express personal ideas.

Not all surveys are considered sociological research. Many surveys people commonly encounter focus on identifying marketing needs and strategies rather than testing a hypothesis or contributing to social science knowledge. Questions such as, “How many hot dogs do you eat in a month?” or “Were the staff helpful?” are not usually designed as scientific research. Surveys gather different types of information from people. While surveys are not great at capturing the ways people really behave in social situations, they are a great method for discovering how people feel, think, and act—or at least how they say they feel, think, and act. Surveys can track preferences for presidential candidates or reported individual behaviors (such as sleeping, driving, or texting habits) or information such as employment status, income, and education levels. Experiments

One way researchers test social theories is by conducting an experiment, meaning the researcher investigates relationships to test a hypothesis. This approach closely resembles the scientific method. There are two main types of experiments: lab-based experiments and natural or field experiments. In a lab setting, the research can be controlled so that data can be recorded in a limited amount of time. In a natural or field-based experiment, the time it takes to gather the data cannot be controlled but the information might be considered more accurate since it was collected without interference or intervention by the researcher. Field-based experiments are often used to evaluate interventions in educational settings and health (Baldassarri and Abascal 2017).

Typically, the sociologist selects a set of people with similar characteristics, such as age, class, race, or education. Those people are divided into two groups. One is the experimental group and the other is the control group. The experimental group is exposed to the independent variable(s) and the control group is not. To test the benefits of tutoring, for example, the sociologist might provide tutoring to the experimental group of students but not to the control group. Then both groups would be tested for differences in performance to see if tutoring had an effect on the experimental group of students. As you can imagine, in a case like this, the researcher would not want to jeopardize the accomplishments of either group of students, so the setting would be somewhat artificial. The test would not be for a grade reflected on their permanent record as a student, for example. Secondary Data Analysis

While sociologists often engage in original research studies, they also contribute knowledge to the discipline through secondary data analysis. Secondary data does not result from firsthand research collected from primary sources. Instead secondary data uses data collected by other researchers or data collected by an agency or organization. Sociologists might study works written by historians, economists, teachers, or early sociologists. They might search through periodicals, newspapers, or magazines, or organizational data from any period in history. Participant Observation

Participant observation refers to a style of research where researchers join people and participate in a group’s routine activities for the purpose of observing them within that context. This method lets researchers experience a specific aspect of social life. A researcher might go to great lengths to get a firsthand look into a trend, institution, or behavior. For instance, a researcher might work as a waitress in a diner, experience homelessness for several weeks, or ride along with police officers as they patrol their regular beat. Often, these researchers try to blend in seamlessly with the population they study, and they may not disclose their true identity or purpose if they feel it would compromise the results of their research.

At the beginning of a field study, researchers might have a question: “What really goes on in the kitchen of the most popular diner on campus?” or “What is it like to be homeless?” Participant observation is a useful method if the researcher wants to explore a certain environment from the inside. The ethnographer will be alert and open minded to whatever happens, recording all observations accurately. Soon, as patterns emerge, questions will become more specific, and the researcher will be able either make connections to existing theories or develop new theories based on their observations. This approach will guide the researcher in analyzing data and generating results. In-depth interviews

Interviews, sometimes referred to as in-depth interviews, are one-on-one conversations with participants designed to gather information about a particular topic. Interviews can take a long time to complete, but they can produce very rich data. In fact, in an interview, a respondent might say something that the researcher had not previously considered, which can help focus the research project. Researchers have to be careful not to use leading questions. You want to avoid leading the respondent into certain kinds of answers by asking questions like, “You really like eating vegetables, don’t you?” Instead researchers should allow the respondent to answer freely by asking questions like, “How do you feel about eating vegetables?”

2.4.4 International Research

International research is conducted outside of the researcher’s own immediate geography and society. This work carries additional challenges considering that researchers often work in regions and cultures different from their own. Researchers need to make special considerations in order to counter their own biases, navigate linguistic challenges and ensure the best cross cultural understanding possible. This webpage shows a map and descriptions of field projects around the world by students at Oxford University’s Masters in Development Studies. What are some interesting projects that stand out to you?

For example, in 2021 Jörg Friedrichs at Oxford published his research on Muslim hate crimes in areas of North England where Islam is the majority religion. He studied police data of racial and religious hate crimes in two districts to look for patterns related to the crimes. He related those patterns to the wider context of community relations between Muslims and other groups, and presented his research to hate crime practitioners in police, local government and civil society (Friedrichs 2021).

2.4.5 Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous scientists also critique traditional ways of doing science. Often, Western science will break things down into parts to understand what each part does. While that may help understand details, it doesn’t give the whole picture of a process or help understand the interdependence in the social and physical world. Also, Western science values intellectual ways of knowing. Intuition, empathy, and connection are not valued. Robin Wall Kimmer, an Indigenous biologist from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes this:

Native scholar Greg Cajete has written that in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. I came to understand quite sharply when I began my training as a scientist that science privileges only one, possibly two, of those ways of knowing: mind and body. As a young person wanting to know everything about plants, I did not question this. But it is a whole human being who finds the beautiful path. (Kimmerer 2013)

When we can do science using all of our ways of knowing, our answers become richer. As the world becomes more aware of increases in the environmental crisis, researchers are more often acknowledging the ways that Indigenous peoples care for their ecological surroundings. As Indigenous communities conduct their own fieldwork to identify and document their own knowledge they are able to engage with research as agents of ecological conservation.

Figure 2.30 Consider This with Robin Wall Kimmerer [YouTube Video]

In the video in Figure 2.30, Kimmerer has a longer conversation about what it means to be American. Starting around minute 55:25 she shares the importance of naming, and how naming can sometimes shut down learning. Please listen to her words for yourself, and reflect on how the practices she introduces might change your own approach to science.

2.4.6 Community-Based Research and Participatory Action Research

Social problems sociologists and other social scientists often conduct their research so that they can take action. Action research is a family of research methodologies that pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time. We see this when the government changes a policy based on data or when a community organization tries a new evidence-based approach for providing services. One of the most visible applications of social problems research is through humanitarian or social action efforts. Humanitarian Efforts

One effective example of social action efforts is in the work of Paul Farmer. Farmer was a public health physician, anthropologist, and founder of partners in health. Until his death in 2022, he focused on epidemiological crises in low and middle income countries.

One trend that Farmer championed was the importance of good health and health care as human rights. He contributed to a broader understanding that poor health is a symptom of poverty, violence and inequality (Partners in Health 2009). If you want to learn more, please watch the NPR video essay, “ Paul Farmer: I believe in health care as a human right ” [YouTube Video] where he describes this view. What field experiences of Farmer’s do you see allowed him to develop this view?

Farmer applied this human rights perspective to pandemics. His book, Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History , looks at the 2014 Ebola crisis, and what we can learn from it to apply to the COVID-19 epidemic. In a PBS Newshour interview he spoke of his work during the Ebola outbreak:

>Early in the Ebola outbreak, almost all of our attention was turned towards clinical services. But we kept on bumping into things we didn’t understand and sometimes even our colleagues from Sierra Leone and Liberia didn’t understand. And that just triggered an interest in a deeper understanding of the place, the culture, the history. (Public Broadcasting Service 2021).

Farmer shares his experiences both as a medical doctor and a researcher, asking the questions: “Who is most impacted by disease? How might things have been done differently? What can be done now?” His research on Ebola focused on circumstances in West Africa where lack of medical resources and decades of war played a role in the epidemic, and how the epidemic itself, as we experience in the United States with Covid, revealed underlying problems and inequities in society (Public Broadcasting Service 2021). We’ll explore topics of health, inequality and interdependence more deeply in Chapter 7 . Community-Based Action Research

Community-based research takes place in community settings. It involves community members in the design and implementation of research projects. It demonstrates respect for the contributions of success that are made by community partners. Research projects involve collaboration between researchers and community partners, whether the community partners are formally structured community-based organizations or informal groups of individual community members. The aim of this type of research is to benefit the community by achieving social justice through social action and change. Participatory Action Research

Community-based research is sometimes called participatory action research (Stringer 2021). In partnership with community organizations, researchers apply their social science research skills to help assess needs, outcomes, and provide data that can be used to improve living conditions. The research is rigorous and often published in professional reports and presented to the board of directors for the organization you are working with. As it sounds, action research suggests that we make a plan to implement changes. Often with academic research, we aim to learn more about a population and leave the next steps up to others. This is an important part of the puzzle, as we need to start with knowledge but action research often has the goal of fixing something or at least quickly translating the newly acquired findings into a solution for a social problem.

To learn more about participatory action research, check out this short 4 minute clip for an introduction with Shirah Hassan of Just Practice (figure 2.31):

Figure 2.31 Participatory Action Research with Shirah Hassan  [YouTube Video]

Community-based action research looks for evidence. As new insights emerge, the researchers adjust the question or the approach. This type of research engages people who have traditionally been referred to as subjects as active participants in the research process. The researcher is working with the organization during the whole process and will likely bring in different project design elements based on the needs of the organization. Social scientists can bring more formalized training, but they draw both on existing research/literature and goals of the organization they are working with. Community-based research or participatory research can be thought of as an orientation for research rather than strictly a method. Often a number of different methods are used to collect data. Change can often be one of the main aims of the project, as we will see in the box below.

2.4.7 Research Ethics

How we do science and how we apply our results is more challenging than it might first appear. The American Sociological Association (ASA) is the major professional organization of sociologists in North America. ASA is a great resource for students of sociology as well. The ASA maintains a code of ethics —formal guidelines for conducting sociological research—consisting of principles and ethical standards to be used in the discipline. These formal guidelines were established by practitioners in 1905 at John Hopkins University, and revised in 1997. When working with human subjects, these codes of ethics require researchers’ to do the following:

  • Maintain objectivity and integrity in research
  • Respect subjects’ rights to privacy and dignity
  • Protect subject from personal harm
  • Preserve confidentiality
  • Seek informed consent
  • Acknowledge collaboration and assistance
  • Disclose sources of financial support

2.4.8 Unethical Studies

Unfortunately, when these codes of ethics are ignored, it creates an unethical environment for humans being involved in a sociological study. Throughout history, there have been numerous unethical studies, as we’ll explore in the following sections. The Tuskegee Experiment

This study was conducted 1932 in Macon County, Alabama, and included 600 African American men, including 399 diagnosed with syphilis. The participants were told they were diagnosed with a disease of “bad blood.” Penicillin was distributed in the 1940s as the cure for the disease, but unfortunately, the African American men were not given the treatment because the objective of the study was to see “how untreated syphilis would affect the African American male” (Caplan 2007). This study was shut down in 1972, because a reporter wrote that at least 128 people had died from syphillis or related complications (Nix 2020). Milgram Experiment

In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment at Yale University. Its purpose was to measure the willingness of study subjects to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. People in the role of teacher believed they were administering electric shocks to students who gave incorrect answers to word-pair questions. No matter how concerned they were about administering the progressively more intense shocks, the teachers were told to keep going. The ethical concerns involve the extreme emotional distress faced by the teachers, who believed they were hurting other people. (Vogel 2014). Today this experiment would not be allowed because it would violate the ethical principal of protecting subjects from personal harm. Philip Zimbardo and the Stanford prison experiment

In 1971, psychologist Phillip Zimbardo conducted a study involving students from Stanford University. The students were put in the roles of prisoners and guards, and were required to play their assigned role accordingly. The experiment was intended to last two weeks, but it only lasted six days due to the negative outcome and treatment of the “prisoners.” Beyond the ethical concerns, the study’s validity has been questioned after participants revealed they had been coached to behave in specific ways. Today, this experiment would not be allowed because it would violate a participants right to dignity, and protection from harm. Laud Humphreys

In the 1960s, Laud Humphreys conducted an experiment at a restroom in a park known for same-sex sexual encounters. His objective was to understand the diversity of backgrounds and motivations of people seeking same-sex relationships. His ethics were questioned because he misrepresented his identity and intent while observing and questioning the men he interviewed (Nardi 1995). Today this experiment would not be allowed because participants did not provide informed consent, among other issues.

2.4.9 Licenses and Attributions for Research Methods for Social Problems

2.4 Research methods for social problems.

Puentes and Gougherty https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BOCrIQ5xDJD1RbVdmS1glMeaKurj4fHgF5hkn2P77-U/edit#heading=h.lc1f68rgruem Slightly summarized

Figure 2.23 – Ways of Knowing and Examples by Kimberly Puttman. License: CC-BY-ND

Figure 2.24 The Scientific Method as an Ongoing Process by Michaela Willi Hooper and Jennifer Puentes. License: CC-BY-4.0.

Figure 2.25 Examples of dependent and independent variables. Typically, the independent variable causes the dependent variable to change in some way. [c] [d]

Figure 2.26 Drawing of Ibn al-Hayatham by Unknown Artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons public domain.

Figure 2.27 “ How Trees Talk To Each Other ” by Suzanne Simard. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

2.4.2 Interpretive Frameworks by Kimberly Puttman. License: CC-BY-4.0

Figure 2.28 “ Hidden Figures Premiere ” by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons public domain.

Figure 2.29. Interpretive Framework Source – Kim Puttman [e]

Figure 2.30 “ Consider This with Robin Wall Kimmerer ” by Oregon Humanities . License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Figure 2.31 “ Participatory Action Research ” with Shirah Haasan by Vera Instit ute of Justice . License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

Social Problems Copyright © by Kim Puttman. All Rights Reserved.

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Social problem-solving might also be called ‘ problem-solving in real life ’. In other words, it is a rather academic way of describing the systems and processes that we use to solve the problems that we encounter in our everyday lives.

The word ‘ social ’ does not mean that it only applies to problems that we solve with other people, or, indeed, those that we feel are caused by others. The word is simply used to indicate the ‘ real life ’ nature of the problems, and the way that we approach them.

Social problem-solving is generally considered to apply to four different types of problems:

  • Impersonal problems, for example, shortage of money;
  • Personal problems, for example, emotional or health problems;
  • Interpersonal problems, such as disagreements with other people; and
  • Community and wider societal problems, such as litter or crime rate.

A Model of Social Problem-Solving

One of the main models used in academic studies of social problem-solving was put forward by a group led by Thomas D’Zurilla.

This model includes three basic concepts or elements:


This is defined as the process used by an individual, pair or group to find an effective solution for a particular problem. It is a self-directed process, meaning simply that the individual or group does not have anyone telling them what to do. Parts of this process include generating lots of possible solutions and selecting the best from among them.

A problem is defined as any situation or task that needs some kind of a response if it is to be managed effectively, but to which no obvious response is available. The demands may be external, from the environment, or internal.

A solution is a response or coping mechanism which is specific to the problem or situation. It is the outcome of the problem-solving process.

Once a solution has been identified, it must then be implemented. D’Zurilla’s model distinguishes between problem-solving (the process that identifies a solution) and solution implementation (the process of putting that solution into practice), and notes that the skills required for the two are not necessarily the same. It also distinguishes between two parts of the problem-solving process: problem orientation and actual problem-solving.

Problem Orientation

Problem orientation is the way that people approach problems, and how they set them into the context of their existing knowledge and ways of looking at the world.

Each of us will see problems in a different way, depending on our experience and skills, and this orientation is key to working out which skills we will need to use to solve the problem.

An Example of Orientation

Most people, on seeing a spout of water coming from a loose joint between a tap and a pipe, will probably reach first for a cloth to put round the joint to catch the water, and then a phone, employing their research skills to find a plumber.

A plumber, however, or someone with some experience of plumbing, is more likely to reach for tools to mend the joint and fix the leak. It’s all a question of orientation.


Problem-solving includes four key skills:

  • Defining the problem,
  • Coming up with alternative solutions,
  • Making a decision about which solution to use, and
  • Implementing that solution.

Based on this split between orientation and problem-solving, D’Zurilla and colleagues defined two scales to measure both abilities.

They defined two orientation dimensions, positive and negative, and three problem-solving styles, rational, impulsive/careless and avoidance.

They noted that people who were good at orientation were not necessarily good at problem-solving and vice versa, although the two might also go together.

It will probably be obvious from these descriptions that the researchers viewed positive orientation and rational problem-solving as functional behaviours, and defined all the others as dysfunctional, leading to psychological distress.

The skills required for positive problem orientation are:

Being able to see problems as ‘challenges’, or opportunities to gain something, rather than insurmountable difficulties at which it is only possible to fail.

For more about this, see our page on The Importance of Mindset ;

Believing that problems are solvable. While this, too, may be considered an aspect of mindset, it is also important to use techniques of Positive Thinking ;

Believing that you personally are able to solve problems successfully, which is at least in part an aspect of self-confidence.

See our page on Building Confidence for more;

Understanding that solving problems successfully will take time and effort, which may require a certain amount of resilience ; and

Motivating yourself to solve problems immediately, rather than putting them off.

See our pages on Self-Motivation and Time Management for more.

Those who find it harder to develop positive problem orientation tend to view problems as insurmountable obstacles, or a threat to their well-being, doubt their own abilities to solve problems, and become frustrated or upset when they encounter problems.

The skills required for rational problem-solving include:

The ability to gather information and facts, through research. There is more about this on our page on defining and identifying problems ;

The ability to set suitable problem-solving goals. You may find our page on personal goal-setting helpful;

The application of rational thinking to generate possible solutions. You may find some of the ideas on our Creative Thinking page helpful, as well as those on investigating ideas and solutions ;

Good decision-making skills to decide which solution is best. See our page on Decision-Making for more; and

Implementation skills, which include the ability to plan, organise and do. You may find our pages on Action Planning , Project Management and Solution Implementation helpful.

There is more about the rational problem-solving process on our page on Problem-Solving .

Potential Difficulties

Those who struggle to manage rational problem-solving tend to either:

  • Rush things without thinking them through properly (the impulsive/careless approach), or
  • Avoid them through procrastination, ignoring the problem, or trying to persuade someone else to solve the problem (the avoidance mode).

This ‘ avoidance ’ is not the same as actively and appropriately delegating to someone with the necessary skills (see our page on Delegation Skills for more).

Instead, it is simple ‘buck-passing’, usually characterised by a lack of selection of anyone with the appropriate skills, and/or an attempt to avoid responsibility for the problem.

An Academic Term for a Human Process?

You may be thinking that social problem-solving, and the model described here, sounds like an academic attempt to define very normal human processes. This is probably not an unreasonable summary.

However, breaking a complex process down in this way not only helps academics to study it, but also helps us to develop our skills in a more targeted way. By considering each element of the process separately, we can focus on those that we find most difficult: maximum ‘bang for your buck’, as it were.

Continue to: Decision Making Creative Problem-Solving

See also: What is Empathy? Social Skills

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  • v.45; 2020 Oct

The building blocks of social competence: Contributions of the Consortium of Individual Development

Caroline junge.

a Departments of Developmental and Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Patti M. Valkenburg

b Amsterdam School of Communication Research ASCoR, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Maja Deković

c Department of Clinical Child and Family Studies, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Susan Branje

d Department of Youth and Family, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Associated Data

Social competence refers to the ability to engage in meaningful interactions with others. It is a crucial skill potentially malleable to interventions. Nevertheless, it remains difficult to select which children, which periods in a child’s life, and which underlying skills form optimal targets for interventions. Development of social competence is complex to characterize because (a) it is by nature context- dependent; (b) it is subserved by multiple relevant processes that develop at different times in a child’s life; and (c) over the years multiple, possibly conflicting, ways have been coined to index a child’s social competence. The current paper elaborates upon a theoretical model of social competence developed by Rose-Krasnor (Rose- Krasnor, 1997; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ), and it makes concrete how underlying skills and the variety of contexts of social interaction are both relevant dimensions of social competence that might change over development. It then illustrates how the cohorts and work packages in the Consortium on Individual Development each provide empirical contributions necessary for testing this model on the development of social competence.

1. Introduction

Social competence can be characterized as the effectiveness of a child to engage in social interactions with peers and adults ( Fabes et al., 2006 ; Rubin et al., 1998 ). It is the behavioral manifestation of a child’s emotional and regulatory competencies while interacting with other people. Social competence does not represent a fixed quality but should be viewed as a construct that in itself marks development: Society expects more sophisticated interactions with older children. When children are growing up, interaction contexts beyond the home environment gain importance and become increasingly broader. Moreover, being effective in a variety of social interactions requires children to master many skills that underlie social competence, such as perspective taking, social problem solving, and emotion regulation, which possibly also differ in developmental stadia. Knowledge about (a) these underlying skills, (b) the interaction contexts, and (c) these developmental stadia all contribute to a better understanding of social competence, which is why we consider these three types of knowledge as relevant dimensions, that is, as crucial building blocks of social competence.

Although research on social competence has made great progress in understanding underlying skills and relevant interaction contexts in key periods in children’s lives (see e.g., Rubin et al., 2009 ; Bukowski et al., 2018 ), how these building blocks of social competence connect to each other over the course of development is less well understood: still missing is a detailed model of the development of social competence from infancy to adolescence. The aim of the Consortium on Individual Differences (CID) is to contribute to such a model that captures the development of social competence in a changing society.

In what follows next, we first describe why the field is in need of a developmental model of social competence (Section 2 ). We then give a brief overview of the development of social competence from infancy to adolescence (Section 3 ). In Section 4 , we explain the approach that CID takes towards building a developmental model, which is an elaboration upon a theoretical model of social competence developed by Rose‐Krasnor (1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ). In Section 5 , we show how each of the cohorts and the individual work packages from CID are contributing pieces of evidence to steer the theoretical model. Finally, in Section 6 , we conclude by suggesting how the cohorts and work packages in CID can complement each other in building a developmental model.

2. Why it is crucial to have a better understanding of the development of social competence

Developing social competence is essential for future functioning in society and for reducing risk of behavioral and emotional problems. Indeed, there is ample evidence that variation in social competence in childhood is linked to prowess in other domains in present and later life. For instance, people who as children easily develop good relationships with others are more likely to grow into adults with better health (they live longer; are more resilient to mental health problems, and function better in society; Luthar, 2006 ; Masten and Coatsworth, 1995 ). Socially competent children are more likely to advance in academics ( Caprara et al., 2000 ; Denham, 2006 ; Wentzel, 1991 ), or rate themselves as happier ( Ryan and Deci, 2001 ). Reversely, deviances in social competence can be a symptom for many forms of psychopathology emerging in child development. If social competence appears deviant, many other problems are typically observed, such as peer rejection (in ADHD; Larson et al., 2011 ), social anxiety ( La Greca and Lopez, 1998 ), bullying and aggression ( Warden, and Mackinnon, 2003 ; for overviews, see Happé and Frith, 2014 ; Trentacosta and Fine, 2010 ). Together, this suggests that the construct of social competence is a key factor in explaining individual variation, both in typical and atypical child populations.

The construct of social competence is a developmental construct: it emerges from meaningful interactions with various others in a variety of contexts ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ). Such interactions shape children’s competence: children learn how to behave in their social worlds both through direct instruction as well as by observing others in interactions. As a result, the type and quality of interactions children experience become increasingly more varied and complex over time. Moreover, children’s concepts of the relevance of interactions mark clear progression. Clearly, the construct of social competence changes over time, but a unified model of how social competence emerges from infancy to adolescence remains missing.

There are several reasons why we need a better understanding how social competence unfolds. First, indexes of social competence from early childhood have been shown to be predictive of social competence later in life (e.g., Howes, 1987 ; Monahan and Steinberg, 2011 ; Rubin et al., 1998 ; but see Masten et al., 1995 ). In fact, there appears to be a Matthew effect for social competence: for example, those competent in making friends early in life are becoming more competent in forming friendships, while the less-competent ones are becoming even less competent in forming friendships ( Flannery and Smith, 2017 ; Ladd, 1999 ; Monahan and Steinberg, 2011 ). Research further documents reciprocal links across various underlying skills of social competence. For example, positive experiences in building friendships early in life foster the development of prosocial behavior, which in turn increases the chance to form friendships later in life ( Flannery and Smith, 2017 ; Ladd, 1999 ). Such self-reinforcing links between the underlying skills of social competence underscore the need to view the development of social competence as a dynamic, complex process in which children are actively regulating their own experiences and creating their own contexts ( Sameroff, 2010 ). Yet to fully grasp the complexity of the development of social competence we need to better understand how and when social competence becomes self-reinforcing along development. Researchers should therefore start building and testing more elaborate models of social competence that take into account the interplay between development, the complexity of different underlying skills, and the variety of social contexts that together shape social competence.

A second reason why it is crucial to develop a clearer picture of how social competence unfolds is that social competence can be malleable, and open to interventions. Yet optimization of interventions in childhood requires not only identifying which underlying skills of social competence are well-suited targets, but also selecting optimal periods to administer such interventions, and should be tailored to a child’s stage of social competence. Knowledge on when to start an intervention is essential since developmental models such as the developmental cascades models assume that adaptive and maladaptive behaviors can result in spreading effects over time across various levels ( Cicchetti, 2002 ). Optimal interventions should ideally result in the interruption of negative cascades and the promotion of positive cascades ( Masten and Cicchetti, 2010 ). Thus, it is essential to develop a model of social competence that makes explicit not only how different underlying skills connect with different stages of social competence (the ‘hows’), but also how social competence changes over development (the ‘whens’).

The third and final reason why it is important to develop get a better picture on how social competence unfolds is that children’s social contexts (the ‘wheres’) have changed dramatically in the past two decades. One key change is that most Western infants and toddlers now have extensive experiences with peers and other adults prior to school entry. In fact, unlike earlier generations, most of today’s infants are in some form of day care away from their primary caregiver(s). How does this change affect the formation of peer relations and social competence ( Hay et al., 2018 )?

Another key change involves the rapid changes in children’s and adolescents’ media environments. In the 1970s the average age that a child started watching television was at 4 years of age. But due to the rise of prosocial and educational baby TV and apps (and parents’ tendencies to embrace such media), the onset of media exposure is now dropped to three and five months of age ( Valkenburg and Piotrowski, 2017 ). Developmentally appropriate educational media may support cognitive learning (e.g., numeracy, literacy), but could also improve underlying skills of social competence (e.g., prosocial behaviour), particularly when adults are involved with the content their children consume ( Courage and Howe, 2010 ). Furthermore, increasingly more interactions in childhood and adolescence take place online. What are the consequences of this? Do skills in social competence generalize easily to those required in online social interaction or does effectively communicating in digital interactions require an additional set of skills? Or does the larger amount of online interaction hamper development of complex underlying skills of social competence, such as emotion recognition and perspective taking? This is something research only starts exploring ( Blumberg et al., 2019 ).

3. Sketching the development of social competence

Before we can explain how CID aims to build theory on the development of social competence, it is essential to provide an overview of how social competence develops across childhood. In Table 1 we therefore define each period in childhood and list the main characteristics in marking the development of social competence. Please note that this overview is neither inclusive nor complete—it only serves to outline the highlights of each period in relation to social competence.

Each age period comes with its own characteristics of social competence.

Certainly not surprising, it appears that any period in a child’s life is fundamental in contributing to social competence ( Rubin et al., 2009 ), albeit for different reasons. For example, while in infancy social interaction skills typically evolve within the family context (e.g., Jones et al., 2014 ), childhood highlights the dominating force of peers within the classroom ( Masten and Coatsworth, 1995 ), and adolescence is the period in which most relevant social interactions mainly take place in cliques ( Moffitt, 1993 ; Weiss, 1986 ). In addition, a skill such as perspective taking emerges in early childhood but only reaches mature levels in adolescence, when adolescents have learned to appreciate that others can have different opinions ( Selman, 1980 ). Although each period comes with its own developmental tasks, most central issues continue to be of importance throughout development ( Waters and Sroufe, 1983 ). For instance, the significant association between the quality of parent-child relationship and children’s social competence is not moderated by age ( Groh et al., 2014 ). A developmental model of social competence should thus not only view its development as a set of discrete stages, but also consider the factors that continue to bear on its development.

4. Towards a developmental model of social competence

How should we now start building a developmental model of social competence? We propose to build on an existing theoretical model: the prism model of social competence put forward by Linda Rose‐Krasnor (1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ). This model does not focus on the development of social competence, but describes the different elements required for establishing good social interaction. We will first briefly summarize the prism model, before we outline how CID makes the prism model more concrete by adding a developmental framework.

The prism model has three hierarchical layers of analysis of social competence and one depth- dimension (context). The top layer of analysis is the theoretical one, which concerns social competence defined as effectiveness in interaction ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ). This definition allows us to maintain the same definition from infancy to adolescence. The second layer contains the indexical level and relates to the various ways in which social competence can be measured ( Flannery and Smith, 2017 ). The bottom layer of the prism model is the skills- dimension, which lists those underlying skills that are important across the many different contexts in which social interactions take place, such as emotion regulation and perspective taking skills. Finally, the depth- dimension of the prism model reflects the various kinds of contexts (home vs school; parent vs. peers; online vs. offline) in which interaction takes place.

In the next sessions, we explain how CID implements and provides data for the indexical layer as well as the skills- and context-dimensions in more detail. See Fig. 1 for a schematic representation of our proposed model based on Rose‐Krasnor (1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ).

Fig. 1

CID’s adaptation from Rose-Krasnor’s model of social competence ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ), adding a developmental perspective.

4.1. The indexical layer

The indexical layer encompasses the numerous ways researchers employ to quantify social competence, each of which characterize aspects of social competence or underlying skills of social competence (cf., Fabes et al., 2009 ; Flannery and Smith, 2017 ). The cohort studies in CID mainly rely on questionnaires as these are one of the easiest, fastest and most common ways to collect information about social competence in large groups of children ( El Mallah, 2020 ; Halle and Darling-Churchill, 2016 ). Most questionnaires are standardized, normed and internationally known questionnaires that can be filled in by either parents, teachers or children themselves.

4.2. The skills-dimension

The skills dimension is concerned with the foundational skills and motivations underlying social competence that are primarily individual in nature. It is at the skills level that developmental change might be considered most prominent and open to interventions ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ). However, there is no consensus on what one considers vital skills, partly because it is often difficult to tease apart underlying crucial skills from manifestations of social competence itself. Take for instance social perspective taking, which can be viewed both as an index of social competence, as well as a necessary skill from which social competence thrives. Table 2 lists the skills that various researchers find crucial for social competence ( Crick and Dodge, 1994 ; Halberstadt et al., 2001 ; Hay et al., 2004 ; Raver and Zigler, 1997 ; Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ). Although this list should not be considered as complete, it shows the variety of skills involved in social competence.

An overview of studies that list various skills as relevant processes to social competence.

Crucially, while Table 2 serves to highlight that there is no consensus in what one considers vital skills for social competence, it also reveals points of intersection. By focusing on those skills that are repeatedly listed we assume that these skills reflect the key foundations for social competence. We selected a set of five skills that serve as possible indicators in representing children’s (potential for) social competence. Below we motivate our choice in more detail. We begin with providing a definition and signaling its agreement with other researchers from Table 2 . We then give a brief overview of development, and end with how interventions targeted to this skill are beneficial for social competence.

4.2.1. Social encoding

Social encoding is the skill that requires a child to attend to the social interaction partner and to interpret meaningful cues from this person, such as emotions. We see the relevance of social encoding to social competence also in other researchers’ inventories of necessary skills (albeit phrased somewhat differently): as ‘encoding social situations’ ( Crick and Dodge, 1994 ), as ‘awareness and identification’ ( Halberstadt et al., 2001 ) and as ‘joint attention’ ( Hay et al., 2004 ). Some researchers suggest that newborns’ early interest in faces may be ‘the gateway to social expertise’ ( Jones et al., 2014 ). There is evidence that already seven-month- olds can differentiate between facial expressions ( Leppänen and Nelson, 2009 ), although the decoding of human faces continues to develop into adolescence (e.g., Cohen Kadosh et al., 2013 ; cf. Blakemore, 2008 ). Our proposal that social encoding is one of the key foundations of social competence is supported by interventions demonstrating that social encoding lead to modest improvements in children’s social competence ( Trentacosta and Fine, 2010 ).

4.2.2. Social problem solving

Social problem solving ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ) can be considered a logical continuation of the previous skill (social encoding), as it centers on responding in such a way to achieve social goals, such as solving conflicts with peers or gaining access to peer play. This skill is also listed by some as ‘social decision making’ ( Crick and Dodge, 1994 ). From early childhood up to adolescence, as children function increasingly in groups, social decision making assumes importance and often revolve around conflict resolution. One way to end conflicts is to react with anger or aggression, which often links to negative outcomes of social competence such as peer rejection ( Card and Little, 2006 ; Von Salisch and Zeman, 2018 ; Werner and Crick, 1999 ). This is not only true for behavior at the playground, but also holds for on-line behavior: cyber aggression is related to higher rates of loneliness and lower rates of friendships ( Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011 ). There are developmental shifts in the type of aggression that children can show in conflicts ( Laursen and Pursell, 2009 ), and when children use aggression strategically, it might actually be considered beneficial ( Hawley et al., 2007 ). Like social encoding, social problem solving is a skill susceptible to interventions aimed at improving social competence ( Denham and Almeida, 1987 ; for a recent meta-analysis, see Merrill et al., 2017 ).

4.2.3. Emotion regulation

If there is one skill that all researchers included in Table 2 consider vital to social competence, it is emotion regulation ( Hay et al., 2004 ; Raver and Zigler, 1997 ; also referred to as ‘arousal regulation’; Crick and Dodge, 1994 ; as ‘affect regulation’; Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; or as ‘self-regulation’; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ; Vink et al., 2020 ). Being unable to exert control over one’s emotions, behaviors and arousals while interacting with others is a clear sign of obtrusive, unpleasant behavior that is typically disliked by most people. Indeed, there is ample evidence linking poor regulation skills to negative indices of social competence, in particular peer problems (e.g., Eisenberg et al., 2001 ; Holmes et al., 2016 ; cf. Eisenberg et al., 2010 ). As inter alia Vink and colleagues describe ( Vink et al., 2020 ), emotion regulation is an umbrella term that covers both effortful control as well as executive functions and executive control (see also Nigg, 2017 ). In early infancy, children’s responses are at first mainly reactive rather than pro-active ( Ruff and Rothbart, 1996 ). Processes related to executive functions also come to the scene, mainly in toddlerhood onwards; for instance, inhibitory control emerges around 24–26 months ( Kochanska et al., 2000 ), whereas improvements in executive control appear most pronounced in early childhood ( Carlson, 2005 ). A recent review on the development of emotion regulation ( Eisenberg et al., 2010 ) reveals that children make great advances in their ability to exert control over their emotions in the preschool years while it improves more slowly into adulthood. Importantly, while individual differences in emotion regulatory skills are rather stable, they can serve as a mediator between parenting and children’s problem behaviors ( Belsky et al., 2007 ; Van Dijk et al., 2017 ). Moreover, interventions targeted at promoting self-regulation or regulating emotions result in more socially competent students ( Domitrovich et al., 2007 ; Low et al., 2015 ).

4.2.4. Communication

Communicative competence refers to the ability to use language effectively and appropriately in different social situations ( Hymes, 1979 ). Developing good communication skills ( Raver and Zigler, 1997 ; Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009 ) is of course also essential in ‘competent responding’ required for sustaining positive engagement in interactions ( Crick and Dodge, 1994 ). Although communication involves also nonverbal understanding ( Raver and Zigler, 1997 ), it is language that is indispensable to communication. Although language shows marked improvements in all aspects from infancy till early childhood (e.g., Clark, 2003 ), it is in particular a child’s pragmatic abilities (e.g., concerned with how children use language in interactions) that prove most relevant to social competence. For instance, children who scored low in pragmatic abilities (e.g., offered fewer requests for explanations or clarifications, initiated fewer conversations, and showed inappropriate turn-taking behaviors) were more likely to be rejected by their peers ( van der Wilt et al., 2018 ). In addition, children with developmental language disorder often experience peer problems or display problem behaviors (e.g., Curtis et al., 2018 ; Forrest et al., 2018 ; Van den Bedem et al., 2018 ), but this is related to pragmatic rather than structural problems with language ( St. Clair et al., 2011 ; Van den Bedem et al., 2019 ). Interventions aimed at improving pragmatic skills prove beneficial in promoting social competence and reducing peer problems ( Adams et al., 2012 ; Bierman et al., 2013 ; Coplan and Weeks, 2009 ).

4.2.5. Empathy

Empathy is a broad concept which generally entails the skill of identifying with another by taking another person’s perspective (cognitive empathy) as well as sharing the emotions of others (affective empathy). Empathy thus acknowledges the awareness that other people may have different emotions and feelings, but also allows for responding appreciatively, both of which are important prerequisites for maintaining social interactions (Eisenberg Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). Because empathy is a highly valued trait in interactions, it is relevant for a myriad of social competence indices such as sustaining relationships, forming friendships, and peer popularity ( Eisenberg et al., 2015 , 2006 ; Spinrad and Gal, 2018 ).

Both affective empathy (responding to other person’s emotions, for instance via imitation) and cognitive empathy (‘social perspective taking’; Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ) are considered vital skills for social competence ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ). We see the relevance of empathy to social competence also acknowledged by other researchers in Table 2 : Hay and colleagues list it as ‘imitation’ as well as ‘causal understanding’ ( Hay et al., 2004 ); Rose‐Krasnor (1997 ) as ‘empathy’ and ‘perspective taking’.

It is possible that affective and cognitive empathy have different developmental paths. For affective empathy, it appears that even neonates can already imitate other’s facial expression (e.g., contagious crying, Simner, 1971 ). There is evidence that affective empathy in childhood and adolescence is an important underlying skill of social competence (e.g., Van der Graaff et al., 2014 ; van Hoorn et al., 2016 ). There is also protracted development in social perspective taking, which starts at a later age ( Rose‐Krasnor, 1997 ; Selman, 1980 ). Toddlers begin social perspective taking by recognizing the separation between self and others. That is, they are developing a theory mind, which is the awareness that others can hold different feelings or opinions from themselves ( Wellman, 1992 ; Wellman et al., 2011 ). Across childhood (2–12 years) children who possess an advanced theory of mind often display higher levels of social competence ( Imuta et al., 2016 ). Yet preschoolers might still find it difficult to act upon it as their own feelings might be a more dominating force. It is only by late childhood that children learn to view oneself from another person’s perspective. Early adolescence sees the development of mutual and third- person perspective, and late adolescence is characterized by taking into account perspectives beyond the immediate interaction as it considers the relevance of one’s current interaction to social norms.

Interventions targeting the skill of empathy often start with improving in social-emotional understanding and prosocial behaviors in class-room settings (that is, in early and late childhood). Such interventions reveal small but positive effects for fostering social competence, visible in indices such as peer nominations and teacher ratings ( Durlak et al., 2011 ; Malti et al., 2016 ).

To conclude, for the skills-dimension CID identifies five skills underlying social competence, each of which are complex constructs of themselves.

4.3. The context-dimension

The context dimension stresses the variety of relevant contexts in which interactions usually can take place in Western society. Such contexts do not only concern the setting of an interaction (“a situation in time and place”; Hartup, 2009 , p.8), but also with whom a child is interacting. While researchers acknowledge the variety in the skills contributing to social competence, few make explicit the variety of contexts that shape social competence. To demonstrate the richness of contexts of these interactions it is helpful to characterize them using pairs of dichotomies. Below we give four useful dichotomies, and sketch development.

4.3.1. Home versus school

It is at home that children will build the first set of meaningful interactions, with their caretaker(s) and with the other members of the household (e.g., siblings). Consequently, the home provides the foundation for social interactions. Nevertheless, this is not the only context in which some infants learn to interact with others. In Western societies such as the Netherlands, the majority of infants and toddlers regularly experience a form of daycare or play groups, which provides opportunities to learn to interact within small and stable groups of age mates ( Hay et al., 2018 ). Most people agree that providing such additional contexts can be beneficial for a child’s development of social competence, but how or when to cater for this is poorly understood. Next, while infants and toddlers differ in how much of the home context provides the dominant social context relative to other contexts, it is in early and late childhood that for all children the classroom setting gradually becomes a dominant social context. This is why indices on social competence collected in childhood often revolve around group dynamics in the classroom setting, such as (perceived) peer popularity and peer rejection ( Asher and McDonald, 2009 ). In adolescence, the major social context is still dominated by peers, but this time from their own cliques and clubs rather than the classroom.

4.3.2. Offline versus online

Early in infancy most of the interactions take place offline, in close proximity of other persons. With the rise of social media, children come into contact with multiple forms of online interactions from an early age. Indeed, there is evidence that even infants can also learn from persons via on-line interactions, as long as there is social contingency between the child and the other (i.e., when turn-taking occurs naturally, and not artificially; Roseberry et al., 2014 ). Children in middle childhood and adolescents increasingly use social media tools to communicate or play with their friends, peers, or partners they meet on game or other types of platforms ( Valkenburg and Piotrowski, 2017 ). A recent survey from the Netherlands has shown the majority of adolescents use two or three social media platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, in a complementary way ( van Driel et al., 2019v ). Today’s adolescents are amongst the first cohorts of young individuals who have grown up using mobile devices and social media; unlimited access to digital technologies enables them to be in constant contact with their peers and to engage in various social activities, such as playing games, creating audiovisual content, and sharing knowledge ( Salmela-Aro et al., 2017 ). However, about ten percent of current social media users has been identified as compulsive social media users ( van den Eijnden et al., 2016v ). Furthermore, positive correlations between compulsive use of technology and comorbid psychiatric disorders have been reported ( Andreassen, 2015 ). Since social media are a relatively new phenomenon, many questions regarding their potential impact on social competence and mental health remain unanswered ( Pantic, 2014 ). Therefore, more research in this field is required, and we hope that CID may provide some initial answers.

4.3.3. With adults versus peers

In a child’s life the most important adults are the caretakers (usually, the parents), and from childhood onwards, the teachers as well. (In both cases the child typically cannot control these social interaction partners). There is ample evidence that both parents’ ( Feldman et al., 2013 ; Groh et al., 2014 ) as well as teachers’ characteristics ( Wentzel, 2009 ) provide opportunities of interactions that contribute to a child’s social competence. From early childhood onwards, age-matched peers become increasingly the favored choice of interaction partners, as children learn to play and interact with peers. Although children with good social competence can interact easily in both contexts, children with poorer social competence (e.g., shy, withdrawn) find it often easier to interact with adults than with age-matched peers. Therefore, whereas adults might judge a child to be socially competent, one might reach different conclusions when observing a child interacting in situations with other peers.

4.3.4. With friends versus nonfriends

Already preschoolers can distinguish between friends and nonfriends ( Howes, 2009 ). Friendships centers around concepts of similarity: children like to play with others who are like themselves. However, our definition of social competence also requires that good social competence skills may come to the surface in contexts when the interaction partner is not familiar to the child. That is, how does the child interact when the other is not a friend, and the child therefore may not feel at ease with? Children who are shy in talking to others, or even experience social phobia, are at increased risk of developing poor social competence. It is therefore also important to consider social competence in the context of interaction partners the child is not friends with ( Asher and McDonald, 2009 ).

5. CID contributions to the developmental model for social competence

In the current paper we set out explaining that one of the aims of CID is to grasp the development of social competence. CID is a consortium of Dutch researchers aiming to understand the extent and relevance of individual differences in development. There are four main themes of research in CID, grouped into 4 work packages accordingly. Each work package focuses on different aspects of explaining individual differences across development. Two longitudinal cohorts were set up: the YOUth cohorts to sample neurocognitive development (Work Package 1;Onland- Moret et al., 2020), and the Leiden-CID cohorts (‘L-CID’) to test interventions in twins (Work Package 2; Crone et al., 2020 ). Work Package 3 unites four current cohorts established prior to CID ( Branje et al., 2020 ): Generation R (‘Gen-R’, Kooijman et al., 2016 ); Netherlands Twin Register (‘NTR’, Boomsma et al., 2006 ); RADAR (e.g., Branje and Meeus, 2018 ; Crocetti et al., 2017 ) and TRAILS ( Ormel et al., 2012 ). Finally, Work Package 4 focuses on advanced statistical modelling and animal models. CID thus encompasses six Dutch large-scale longitudinal cohort studies capturing child development through repeated measurements while it also houses the tools and methods required to address the complexity in developmental research. In what follows next, we provide more information how each of the cohorts (Section 5.1 ) and work packages (Section 5.2 ) provide building blocks towards building this model.

5.1. Contributions from the cohorts in CID

The cohorts participating in CID aim to help building a developmental model of social competence that integrates the ‘whens’ (age periods), ‘whats’ (indexical layer), ‘hows’ (skills-dimension) and ‘wheres’ (context- dimension) of social competence (See Fig. 1 ). More specifically, all cohorts in CID provide information about the ‘whens’ and ‘whats’ as all sample the development of social competence, albeit they differ in how exactly. It is one of the strengths of CID that all cohorts employ multiple indices collected at various moments in a child’s life to capture a child’s current stage of social competence. Table 3 lists for all cohorts which questionnaires they include to index social competence and it provides information about the age ranges that are covered; the frequency of administration, and the respondent filling in the questionnaires (amongst others children, parents, teachers).

An overview of the questionnaires that tap social competence and skills underlying social competence, for each of the cohorts involved in CID, with ages in years sampled in brackets.

Cohorts : Gen R = Generation R; l -CID = leiden Consortium on Individual Development; NTR = Netherlands Twin Register; RADAR = Research on Adolescent Development and Relationships; TRAILS = Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives’ Survey; YOU-th = Youth of Utrecht.

Indices : ASQ = Ages & Stages Questionnaire – Social Emotional -2 ( Squires et al., 2002 ); CBCL: = Child Behavior CheckList ( Achenbach, 1991 ; Achenbach and Rescorla, 2001 ); IRI = Interpersonal Reactivity Index ( Davis, 1983 ); ITSEA = Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment ( Briggs-Gowan et al., 2004 ); NRI = Network Relationships Inventory ( Furman and Buhrmester, 1985 ); SDQ = Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire ( Goodman, 1997 , 2001 ); SSRS = Social Skills Rating System ( Gresham and Elliott, 1990 ).

* Prosocial subscale from the Revised Self-Report of Aggression and Social Behavior Measure ( Morales and Crick, 1998 ).

** – only the prosocial scale from the SDQ.

c self-report; p parent report; t teacher report; f friend report; s sibling report; i partner report.

1 = collected every year; 2 = collected every two years; 3 = collected every three years.

Indeed, one of the strengths of CID is that its variety in questionnaires allows us to sample every period of child development, starting with infancy (YOUth cohort) and toddlerhood (L-CID cohort). This is in contrast with most studies that only begin measuring social competence once children go to school ( Parker et al., 2006 ). Because the CID cohorts cover each period in child development, we can examine not only direct and long-term outcome measures of social competence, but also precursors to social competence in younger children.

Another strength of CID is that these questionnaires are filled in by a variety of raters (children themselves, parents, teachers, or others), as the source of ratings might be prone to rater bias ( Jones and Yudron, 2016 ). It is important to consider the source of ratings (for example, parent-report vs. self-report), as the source often makes a difference on the factor loadings of the assumed underlying construct (e.g., Goodman, 2001 ; Van Roy et al., 2008 ).

Although the cohort studies in CID use a variety of indices of social competence, two are used in virtually all cohorts: the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire (SDQ: Goodman, 1997 ; for Dutch: Van Widenfelt et al., 2003 ) and the Child Behavior Checklist (ASEBA CBCL; Achenbach, 1991 ; Achenbach and Rescorla, 2001 ; for Dutch: Verhulst et al., 1996 ). Both questionnaires are relevant indices of social competence; they measure different underlying skills and complement each other. Whereas the SDQ measures key underlying skills such as prosocial behavior and friendship behaviors, the CBCL focuses on atypical (problematic) behavior in social interactions. Because all our cohorts employ at least one of these two questionnaires, CID is eventually able to collapse indices of social competence across cohorts that share the same indices (see also Zondervan-Zwijnenburg et al., 2020 for a similar approach to combining multiple cohort data on questionnaires related to behavioral control).

Besides the indexical layer, the cohorts participating in CID also address each of the five identified skills from the skills dimension, via repeated measurements collected in multiple ways spanning development from infancy into adulthood: through questionnaires, experimentally, and in parent-child interaction tasks. In Table 1 from the supplementary information we further delineate how each of the CID cohorts captures these five skills we consider relevant building blocks of social competence. Other articles in this special issue discuss some of the tasks and questionnaires in more detail.

With information adding to the development of skills we can ultimately understand the interplay between different indices, different subserving skills, and different contexts. This is crucial as social competence is a complex developmental construct. Take for instance the development of the underlying skills. While each of these skills show development, they often differ in their trajectories, and operate at different time scales at which they are more influential for social competence than others (e.g., Happé and Frith, 2014 ). We therefore do not assume that development in each skill proportionally continues to shape the development of social competence but rather that weights will change over time.

We illustrate the different time courses by comparing the communication versus empathy skills. Each of these skills have shown to be crucial, but how do they compare to each other in their relevance to social competence? Communication requires in particular a good command of pragmatics in order to confer meaning appropriately for social interactions. For communication skills we assume that pragmatic development has profound influences on social competence in childhood ( van der Wilt et al., 2019 ), but that the additional relevance of language development for social competence might reach a plateau over the following years, before it again assumes importance when friendships in adolescence center on intimacy & self-disclosure ( Troesch et al., 2016 , but see Curtis et al., 2018 ). Nevertheless, our changing society might also add further relevance to communication skills, as interactions increasingly take place online. It is unclear for instance how children with or without developmental language delays fare in digital media contexts that does not require immediate responses ( Drago, 2015 ).

In contrast to the relevance of communication skills to social competence in the early years, cognitive empathy is a skill that shows marked development in the adolescent years ( van der Graaff et al., 2014 ). We therefore expect this skill to continue to grow in importance to social competence, possibly peaking in adolescence, as this is the period when social perspective taking becomes sophisticated ( Selman, 1980 ) and when peer influence becomes a major force in social decision making (e.g., Crone and Dahl, 2012 ).

The above illustrations are mainly speculations. With the evidence gathered so far, we can only isolate the time course of the skills to underlying social competence and provide estimates how their relevance changes over time. What is still missing is evidence that reveals how a range of underlying skills across development together shape the development of social competence. Moreover, given that there is development both in the skills underlying social competence as well as in the different aspects characterizing social competence, such data will also unravel whether there are bidirectional relationships between skills and outcome measures. To illustrate, a recent study shows that while empathy predicts development in friendship quality, the reverse also holds: friendship quality drives empathy development ( Van den Bedem et al., 2019 ). Because CID repeatedly collects information on a wide range of skills (Table 1 from S.I.) concerning the same children from whom we also collect indices of their social competence ( Table 3 ), we aim to eventually contribute the evidence required for a better understanding how these skills work in tandem towards the development of social competence.

5.2. Contributions from the work packages in CID

Above we listed how the cohorts within CID examine the building blocks of social competence, as we make concrete how social competence emerges out of a variety in skills and contexts. Even so, fully capturing (the range in) the development of social competence requires integrating biological, psychological, and environmental factors, as well as insights into how these processes influence one another over time ( Beauchamp and Anderson, 2010 ; Karmiloff-Smith, 2017 ; Karmiloff-Smith et al., 2014 ). Further, in-depth understanding of individual differences in social competence begs a more detailed understanding of each of the descriptive levels of analysis, ranging from the molecular to the behavioral level, and how these levels link to each other both at the same time and across development. However, to date it has been virtually impossible to predict which combinations of factors at which times explain individual variability in the development of social competence.

One of the main reasons why there is not yet such a detailed account is that while different strands of research provide relevant blocks of knowledge, these remain limited as they typically do not cross beyond the boundaries of their own scholarly discipline. To illustrate, developmental studies often rely on longitudinal studies to investigate how psychological child characteristics and environmental factors contribute to a child’s well-being in real-life ( Bronfenbrenner, 2005 ), but these studies often do not include a biological or neurocognitive levels through which factors affect social competence (but see Crone et al., 2020 ). In contrast, biologically-oriented models provide us with a detailed mechanistic understanding of genes, neural function, or brain maturation relevant to the development of social cognition (e.g., Bakermans‐Kranenburg and Van IJzendoorn, 2007 ; Blakemore, 2008 ; Happé and Frith, 2014 ; Johnson et al., 2015 ; Robinson et al., 2008 ; Werker and Hensch, 2015 ) but they do not take into account child characteristics such as emotion regulation. It is here that the CID proves instrumental to building a developmental model of social competence as it accommodates the various disciplines of research that examine the development of social competence in both online and offline interactions as well as possess the statistical knowledge to integrate these findings.

As noted above, social competence is a developmental outcome measure that is reciprocal in the long-term. This makes social competence an example of a developmental cascade as it reflects behavior that can prove adaptive for some while having maladaptive consequences for others. Masten and Cicchetti (2010) identify five strands of research that would inform and optimize interventions required to promote positive cascades but to interrupt negative cascades: all of which are available in the work packages in CID.

One of the proposed strands is that research should determine when the cascade of social competence begins and accelerates to optimize the timing of interventions ( Masten et al., 2009 ). As laid out in this paper, data collected in our work packages 1–3 together provides an overview of social competence spanning from 20 weeks’ pregnancy (YOUth cohort) to far into adulthood (e.g., RADAR, TRAILS). Consequently, we cover development of social competence completely; that is, we can observe precursors in pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood as well as its long-term consequences from conception and infancy onwards.

Second, cascade models would benefit from repeated measurements of social competence collected at various overlapping time scales. The choice of a lag is often chosen arbitrarily, while there must be adequate time for the cascading effects of factors leading to social competence to be manifested (e.g., Cole, 2006 ). With ample variation in time lags we can measure effects of time continuously; this allows us to reach a better understanding of how effects manifest themselves over time, as we can disentangle direct from indirect pathways in which the various variables of interest contribute to social competence ( Masten et al., 2006 ). Indeed, we are collecting longitudinal human data indexing social competence ranging from days (WP3: RADAR cohort) to yearly measurements (WP2: l -CID; WP3: Generation R, NTR, RADAR) to three-year intervals (WP1: YOUth cohorts) to generations (WP3: RADAR; TRAILS cohort). The RADAR cohort is of especial interest here as it is one of the few existing cohorts that even combines various lags within their data collection.

Then there are three remaining strands of research that according to Masten and Cicchetti (2010) are also instrumental in informing interventions, but which have not received as much attention in this paper. In all three cases, CID is able to contribute missing information. One line of research should be demonstrating the necessity of testing intervention designs that target mediating processes for change in social competence, which we cover in Work Package 2. A second strand of research should address how the interplay between genes, brain and environment affects social competence, which we address in our multi- method cohorts: YOUth-cohorts, l -CID and NTR all collect genes and multiple indices of environment (YOUth cohorts in WP1: Onland-Moret et al., 2020 twin cohorts L-CID in WP2; cf. Crone et al., 2020 ; NTR cohort in WP3: Boomsma et al., 2006 ; cf. Branje et al., 2020 ). We also have access to rodent models that allow for a level of control at the level of genes, brain, or environment that cannot be achieved in humans (WP4; cf., van der Veen et al., 2020 ). Finally, Masten and Cicchetti (2010) stress the need of well-designed experiments to further bolster our model that go beyond longitudinal cohorts to demonstrate causal directions between variables of interest and the outcome measure of social competence. With the help of animal models (WP4) and neurocognitive testing (WP1, WP2) we can achieve this. For instance, while Bierman et al. (2008 ) suggest that enriched environments foster social competence, we now test its specificity and generalizability of this in rodent models, which allows for hypothesis-testing in more stringent conditions as the contribution of other factors such as socio-emotional and genes are controlled for ( van der Veen et al., 2020 ). All in all, the CID unites various strands of research that together centers on achieving a better understanding of the development of social competence.

6. Conclusions

To conclude, the literature is still missing a unified approach that integrates how a range of underlying skills together shapes the development of social competence in a range of contexts. The cohorts in CID collect information on different indices of social competence as well as on a wide range of underlying skills concerning the same children in a range of contexts repeatedly across various lags. The work packages in CID each provide unique additional information in testing our model. Putting these pieces together, CID aims to provide the evidence required for such theory-building and bridge these gaps in the literature.

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


The Consortium on Individual Development (CID) is funded through the Gravitation program of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, and the Dutch Research Council (NWO) (Grant No. 024.001.003). The authors thank Chantal Kemner and Carlijn van den Boomen for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, and Lotte Houtepen for assistance. The authors also would like to thank representatives of the cohorts involved in CID for their assistance: Eveline Crone and Bianca van Bulk from the Leiden-CID cohort; Dorret Boomsma and Eveline de Zeeuw from the Netherlands Twin Register; Tineke Oldehinkel from the TRAILS cohort; Manon Hillegers and Elize Koopman Verhoef from the Generation-R cohort; and Juliëtte van der Wal from the YOUth cohorts.

Appendix A Supplementary material related to this article can be found, in the online version, at doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2020.100861 .

Appendix A. Supplementary data

The following is Supplementary data to this article:

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Office of Undergraduate Research

Eura winner sabrina vlk.

The Office of Undergraduate Research proudly presents 2024 EURA Winner Sabrina Vlk

Sabrina Vlk currently studies Mechanical Engineering as a junior at the University of Iowa. In addition, she is working toward a minor in Mathematics and earning an AIMS certificate. Her mentor, Assistant Professor Venanzio Cichella, specializes in Mechanical Engineering while facilitating Vlk's research endeavors. 

Describe your current project.

Within the Cooperative Autonomous Systems (CAS) Lab, I have primarily been involved on the POLPI project in which our team is working towards designing, developing, and controlling a soft robot octopus. My job specifically has been designing and building a test bed with a simplified version of an octopus arm for other members of the team to test their controllers on.

What do you enjoy most about research?

I love how I get to experience a whole new level of problem solving. A lot of the time, there aren't any textbooks I can reference or tutorials I can follow so when faced with a difficult task, I have to rely on my own skillset and the help of my peers to navigate my way towards a solution. From these experiences I've grown a lot as a problem solver, critical thinker, communicator, and engineer. 

Outside of research and academics...

I am heavily involved in within the Theatre Department here on campus both on and off stage as a Theatre Representative, Lighting Designer, Actress, and (soon to be) producer of a virtual reality production. When I'm not in the engineering or theatre buildings, you can find me at home reading a book with my cat, Peach, on my lap.

She has major plans after graduation.

I have been accepted into the U2G program for my Master's in Mechanical Engineering and I'm planning to stick around Iowa City for my Ph.D. as well.

Thank you for your contributions to our research community! 


A once-ignored community of science sleuths now has the research community on its heels

problem solving social research

A community of sleuths hunting for errors in scientific research have sent shockwaves through some of the most prestigious research institutions in the world — and the science community at large.

High-profile cases of alleged image manipulations in papers authored by the former president at Stanford University and leaders at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have made national media headlines, and some top science leaders think this could be just the start.

“At the rate things are going, we expect another one of these to come up every few weeks,” said Holden Thorp, the editor-in-chief of the Science family of scientific journals, whose namesake publication is one of the two most influential in the field. 

The sleuths argue their work is necessary to correct the scientific record and prevent generations of researchers from pursuing dead-end topics because of flawed papers. And some scientists say it’s time for universities and academic publishers to reform how they address flawed research. 

“I understand why the sleuths finding these things are so pissed off,” said Michael Eisen, a biologist, the former editor of the journal eLife and a prominent voice of reform in scientific publishing. “Everybody — the author, the journal, the institution, everybody — is incentivized to minimize the importance of these things.” 

For about a decade, science sleuths unearthed widespread problems in scientific images in published papers, publishing concerns online but receiving little attention. 

That began to change last summer after then-Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who is a neuroscientist, stepped down from his post after scrutiny of alleged image manipulations in studies he helped author and a report criticizing his laboratory culture. Tessier-Lavigne was not found to have engaged in misconduct himself, but members of his lab appeared to manipulate images in dubious ways, a report from a scientific panel hired to examine the allegations said. 

In January, a scathing post from a blogger exposed questionable work from top leaders at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute , which subsequently asked journals to retract six articles and issue corrections for dozens more. 

In a resignation statement , Tessier-Lavigne noted that the panel did not find that he knew of misconduct and that he never submitted papers he didn’t think were accurate. In a statement from its research integrity officer, Dana-Farber said it took decisive action to correct the scientific record and that image discrepancies were not necessarily evidence an author sought to deceive. 

“We’re certainly living through a moment — a public awareness — that really hit an inflection when the Marc Tessier-Lavigne matter happened and has continued steadily since then, with Dana-Farber being the latest,” Thorp said. 

Now, the long-standing problem is in the national spotlight, and new artificial intelligence tools are only making it easier to spot problems that range from decades-old errors and sloppy science to images enhanced unethically in photo-editing software.  

This heightened scrutiny is reshaping how some publishers are operating. And it’s pushing universities, journals and researchers to reckon with new technology, a potential backlog of undiscovered errors and how to be more transparent when problems are identified. 

This comes at a fraught time in academic halls. Bill Ackman, a venture capitalist, in a post on X last month discussed weaponizing artificial intelligence to identify plagiarism of leaders at top-flight universities where he has had ideological differences, raising questions about political motivations in plagiarism investigations. More broadly, public trust in scientists and science has declined steadily in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center .

Eisen said he didn’t think sleuths’ concerns over scientific images had veered into “McCarthyist” territory.

“I think they’ve been targeting a very specific type of problem in the literature, and they’re right — it’s bad,” Eisen said. 

Scientific publishing builds the base of what scientists understand about their disciplines, and it’s the primary way that researchers with new findings outline their work for colleagues. Before publication, scientific journals consider submissions and send them to outside researchers in the field for vetting and to spot errors or faulty reasoning, which is called peer review. Journal editors will review studies for plagiarism and for copy edits before they’re published. 

That system is not perfect and still relies on good-faith efforts by researchers to not manipulate their findings.

Over the past 15 years, scientists have grown increasingly concerned about problems that some researchers were digitally altering images in their papers to skew or emphasize results. Discovering irregularities in images — typically of experiments involving mice, gels or blots — has become a larger priority of scientific journals’ work.   

Jana Christopher, an expert on scientific images who works for the Federation of European Biochemical Societies and its journals, said the field of image integrity screening has grown rapidly since she began working in it about 15 years ago. 

At the time, “nobody was doing this and people were kind of in denial about research fraud,” Christopher said. “The common view was that it was very rare and every now and then you would find someone who fudged their results.” 

Today, scientific journals have entire teams dedicated to dealing with images and trying to ensure their accuracy. More papers are being retracted than ever — with a record 10,000-plus pulled last year, according to a Nature analysis . 

A loose group of scientific sleuths have added outside pressure. Sleuths often discover and flag errors or potential manipulations on the online forum PubPeer. Some sleuths receive little or no payment or public recognition for their work.

“To some extent, there is a vigilantism around it,” Eisen said. 

An analysis of comments on more than 24,000 articles posted on PubPeer found that more than 62% of comments on PubPeer were related to image manipulation. 

For years, sleuths relied on sharp eyes, keen pattern recognition and an understanding of photo manipulation tools. In the past few years, rapidly developing artificial intelligence tools, which can scan papers for irregularities, are supercharging their work. 

Now, scientific journals are adopting similar technology to try to prevent errors from reaching publication. In January, Science announced that it was using an artificial intelligence tool called Proofig to scan papers that were being edited and peer-reviewed for publication. 

Thorp, the Science editor-in-chief, said the family of six journals added the tool “quietly” into its workflow about six months before that January announcement. Before, the journal was reliant on eye-checks to catch these types of problems. 

Thorp said Proofig identified several papers late in the editorial process that were not published because of problematic images that were difficult to explain and other instances in which authors had “logical explanations” for issues they corrected before publication.

“The serious errors that cause us not to publish a paper are less than 1%,” Thorp said.

In a statement, Chris Graf, the research integrity director at the publishing company Springer Nature, said his company is developing and testing “in-house AI image integrity software” to check for image duplications. Graf’s research integrity unit currently uses Proofig to help assess articles if concerns are raised after publication. 

Graf said processes varied across its journals, but that some Springer Nature publications manually check images for manipulations with Adobe Photoshop tools and look for inconsistencies in raw data for experiments that visualize cell components or common scientific experiments.

“While the AI-based tools are helpful in speeding up and scaling up the investigations, we still consider the human element of all our investigations to be crucial,” Graf said, adding that image recognition software is not perfect and that human expertise is required to protect against false positives and negatives. 

No tool will catch every mistake or cheat. 

“There’s a lot of human beings in that process. We’re never going to catch everything,” Thorp said. “We need to get much better at managing this when it happens, as journals, institutions and authors.”

Many science sleuths had grown frustrated after their concerns seemed to be ignored or as investigations trickled along slowly and without a public resolution.  

Sholto David, who publicly exposed concerns about Dana-Farber research in a blog post, said he largely “gave up” on writing letters to journal editors about errors he discovered because their responses were so insufficient. 

Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist and longtime image sleuth, said she has frequently flagged image problems and “nothing happens.” 

Leaving public comments questioning research figures on PubPeer can start a public conversation over questionable research, but authors and research institutions often don’t respond directly to the online critiques. 

While journals can issue corrections or retractions, it’s typically a research institution’s or a university’s responsibility to investigate cases. When cases involve biomedical research supported by federal funding, the federal Office of Research Integrity can investigate. 

Thorp said the institutions need to move more swiftly to take responsibility when errors are discovered and speak plainly and publicly about what happened to earn the public’s trust.  

“Universities are so slow at responding and so slow at running through their processes, and the longer that goes on, the more damage that goes on,” Thorp said. “We don’t know what happened if instead of launching this investigation Stanford said, ‘These papers are wrong. We’re going to retract them. It’s our responsibility. But for now, we’re taking the blame and owning up to this.’” 

Some scientists worry that image concerns are only scratching the surface of science’s integrity issues — problems in images are simply much easier to spot than data errors in spreadsheets. 

And while policing bad papers and seeking accountability is important, some scientists think those measures will be treating symptoms of the larger problem: a culture that rewards the careers of those who publish the most exciting results, rather than the ones that hold up over time. 

“The scientific culture itself does not say we care about being right; it says we care about getting splashy papers,” Eisen said. 

Evan Bush is a science reporter for NBC News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Principles of Social Research Methodology pp 29–41 Cite as

Social Research: Definitions, Types, Nature, and Characteristics

  • Kanamik Kani Khan 4 &
  • Md. Mohsin Reza 5  
  • First Online: 27 October 2022

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Social research is often defined as a study of mankind that helps to identify the relations between social life and social systems. This kind of research usually creates new knowledge and theories or tests and verifies existing theories. However, social research is a broad spectrum that requires a discursive understanding of its varied nature and definitions. This chapter aims to explain the multifarious definitions of social research given by different scholars. The information used in this chapter is solely based on existing literature regarding social research. There are various stages discussed regarding how social research can be effectively conducted. The types and characteristics of social research are further analysed in this chapter. Social research plays a substantial role in investigating knowledge and theories relevant to social problems. Additionally, social research is important for its contribution to national and international policymaking, which explains the importance of social research.

  • Social research
  • Human and social behaviour
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Khan, K.K., Mohsin Reza, M. (2022). Social Research: Definitions, Types, Nature, and Characteristics. In: Islam, M.R., Khan, N.A., Baikady, R. (eds) Principles of Social Research Methodology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-5441-2_3

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Five questions to help leaders discover the right analytics tool for the job.

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  • George Westerman is a Senior Lecturer in MIT Sloan School of Management and founder of the Global Opportunity Forum  in MIT’s Office of Open Learning.
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How Smart Are Bears? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

I n the wilds of nature, bears have long held a reputation for brawn and sheer brute force. Yet, beneath those powerful exteriors lies a surprising truth: these seemingly lumbering giants are far smarter than we might think. In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of bear intelligence.

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Bears are truly formidable creatures of the wilderness, and they are not only known for their physical strength and imposing presence. They are also known for their impressive mental abilities. These intelligent mammals, found across various habitats around the world, exhibit a range of cognitive skills that allow them to adapt and thrive in their environments.

Bears possess an impressive memory, which is crucial for their survival. They can remember the locations of reliable food sources, even when those sources are hidden beneath the snow or tucked away in dense vegetation. This memory allows them to return to these spots year after year, maximizing their chances of obtaining sustenance. Additionally, mother bears exhibit exceptional maternal memory, enabling them to find and protect their cubs and teach them vital survival skills.

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While bears are not known for their vocal communication, they employ a variety of non-verbal cues to convey information. Body language is a significant part of their communication repertoire. For instance, bears use postures like standing on hind legs to signal dominance or assert their presence. They also communicate through scent marking, leaving behind scent trails to convey information about their presence, territory, and mating status to other bears.

Social Skills

Bears are not typically seen as highly social animals, but they do display certain social skills, especially within family units. Mother bears, for instance, form strong bonds with their cubs, nurturing and protecting them for an extended period. Cubs, in turn, learn crucial survival skills by observing and interacting with their mother. Some bear species, like the brown bear , may engage in temporary associations, particularly during mating season, highlighting their ability to adapt to changing social dynamics.

Spatial Awareness

Bears exhibit an excellent sense of spatial awareness, which is essential for navigation and finding food. They can remember intricate details of their home ranges, recognizing landmarks and boundaries. This skill is particularly evident in their ability to cover vast distances during seasonal migrations or while foraging for food.

Emotional Intelligence

Recent research suggests that bears may possess a form of emotional intelligence. They can display complex emotions such as fear, anger, and affection, particularly within family units. Observations of mother bears comforting distressed cubs and the mourning behavior seen in some bear species when a fellow bear passes away hint at their emotional depth.

When it comes down to it, bears are not only known for their physical prowess but also for their remarkable mental abilities. Their problem-solving skills, impressive memory, non-verbal communication, social adaptability, learning abilities, spatial awareness, and emotional intelligence all contribute to their survival in diverse and challenging environments. While they may not possess the same level of cognitive abilities as humans, these magnificent creatures have developed a set of mental skills that enable them to thrive in the wild. Studying and appreciating the mental abilities of bears not only enhances our understanding of these animals but also highlights the importance of their conservation in the face of ongoing habitat threats and environmental changes.

Cognitive Capabilities: Understanding a Bear’s Problem-Solving Skills and Learning Aptitude

Bears, the enigmatic giants of the wilderness, possess cognitive abilities that often surprise and intrigue scientists and nature enthusiasts alike. These creatures, found in various habitats worldwide, exhibit impressive problem-solving skills and a remarkable capacity for learning.

Problem-Solving Skills

Bears are renowned for their ingenuity when it comes to solving problems, particularly those related to obtaining food. Their resourcefulness is a testament to their cognitive prowess.

Example 1: Flipping Rocks for Insects

Grizzly bears , for instance, exhibit a clever approach to securing a meal. They are known to flip over rocks in search of insects and other small prey. This behavior showcases their ability to use tools – in this case, the rocks – to achieve their goal. It’s a tangible demonstration of their problem-solving skills, as they recognize that their efforts can yield a tasty reward.

Example 2: Food Container Conundrums

Bears also demonstrate their problem-solving abilities when faced with food containers left by humans. In areas where bears and humans coexist, it’s common for bears to encounter food containers, such as coolers or trash cans, in campgrounds or residential areas. To get to the tempting contents inside, bears must figure out how to manipulate these containers. Some bears have become quite adept at this, employing techniques like prying open lids or using their powerful claws to access food. These behaviors underscore their adaptability and ability to devise solutions to novel challenges.

Learning Aptitude

Bears possess a formidable capacity for learning from their experiences. This learning aptitude is a vital aspect of their cognitive abilities, allowing them to adapt and thrive in ever-changing environments.

Example 1: Memory for Food Sources

One notable facet of bear learning is their impressive memory. Bears can remember the locations of reliable food sources over extended periods, even when those sources are hidden beneath snow or concealed by dense vegetation. This memory allows them to return to these spots season after season, maximizing their chances of obtaining nourishment. This retention of crucial information is a testament to their cognitive adaptability and long-term memory capabilities.

Example 2: Observational Learning and Cubs

Learning in bears also extends to social dynamics and survival skills. Mother bears, in particular, exhibit exceptional teaching abilities. Cubs learn vital life lessons by observing and interacting with their mothers. From hunting techniques to understanding the nuances of the bear’s social hierarchy, these lessons are essential for the cubs’ survival. This form of observational learning underscores the sophistication of bear cognition.

The Importance of Cognitive Abilities in Bear Survival

These cognitive abilities – problem-solving skills and learning aptitude – are paramount to bear survival. In the challenging environments they inhabit, where food sources are not always abundant and competition is fierce, their mental acumen plays a critical role.

Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom: Comparing Bears to Other Species

Intelligence in the animal kingdom varies widely, and bears stand out as remarkably intelligent creatures. To understand their place in the spectrum of animal intelligence, it’s crucial to compare them to other animals, including humans, and evaluate their cognitive capabilities.

Bears in the Animal Kingdom: A Class of Their Own

Bears belong to the family Ursidae and are renowned for their exceptional mental capabilities. Their intelligence places them among the top tier of animal cognition.

  • Problem-Solving Skills: As mentioned earlier, bears are adept problem-solvers. They exhibit resourcefulness in obtaining food, such as flipping rocks to find insects or manipulating human-made food containers to access contents. This problem-solving ability sets them apart from many other species.
  • Learning Aptitude: Bears possess a remarkable capacity for learning from their experiences. Their memory allows them to recall the locations of food sources over extended periods, and they engage in observational learning, a skill exhibited by few animals. Cubs, in particular, learn essential survival skills by observing and interacting with their mothers.
  • Communication Skills: While not known for vocal communication, bears employ non-verbal cues such as body language and scent marking to convey information. Their ability to convey dominance, assert presence, and communicate social information through scent trails highlights their social acumen.

Comparing Bears to Other Animals

To gauge the intelligence of bears relative to other animals, we can compare their cognitive abilities to those of different species.

Dolphins are often cited as some of the most intelligent non-human animals. They exhibit advanced problem-solving skills, complex social structures, and sophisticated communication. While dolphins excel in these areas, bears demonstrate a different set of skills, with their problem-solving abilities revolving more around obtaining food.

Apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, share a close genetic relationship with humans and display high levels of cognitive sophistication. They exhibit tool use, intricate problem-solving, and even limited cultural behaviors. Bears, on the other hand, may not reach the same level of cognitive complexity as apes but excel in areas like memory and observational learning.

Elephants, known for their excellent memory, display advanced problem-solving skills and complex social structures. While their cognitive abilities differ from those of bears, both species showcase the importance of memory in their lives.

Ravens are among the most intelligent birds, with remarkable problem-solving skills and the ability to use tools. Their intelligence differs from that of bears, emphasizing cognitive diversity across the animal kingdom.

Bears’ Intelligence in Perspective

Comparing bears to other animals underscores their unique cognitive abilities. They may not reach the same heights in specific areas as dolphins, apes, or elephants , but they excel in different aspects, such as problem-solving in the context of foraging and their capacity for observational learning.

Humans: The Pinnacle of Intelligence

When comparing bears to humans, the distinction in intelligence becomes more evident. Humans are considered the most intelligent species on Earth, possessing advanced cognitive abilities, abstract thinking, complex language, and the ability to create and manipulate tools on a vast scale. The gap between human and bear intelligence is vast and rooted in our unique evolutionary history.

In the grand tapestry of the animal kingdom, bears shine as intelligent creatures with a distinct set of cognitive abilities. Their problem-solving skills, learning aptitude, and communication strategies place them among the upper echelons of animal intelligence. While they may not reach the heights of dolphins, apes, or elephants in certain aspects, their unique cognitive strengths make them exceptionally well-suited to their environments.

When compared to humans, the chasm in intelligence is undeniable. Human cognitive abilities, including abstract thinking, complex language, and tool manipulation, set us apart as the most intelligent species on Earth. However, appreciating the intelligence of bears and other animals enriches our understanding of the natural world and underscores the remarkable diversity of cognitive abilities that have evolved across species.

Past Discoveries and Studies on Bear Intelligence

The enigmatic world of bear intelligence has long captivated scientists and nature enthusiasts alike. Over the years, numerous discoveries and studies have shed light on the remarkable cognitive abilities of these formidable creatures. In this journey through the history of bear intelligence research, we’ll delve into some key findings and studies, providing insights into the complex minds of bears.

Early Observations: Hints of Intelligence

Human interactions with bears have been intertwined with folklore and ancient traditions that hinted at their cognitive capabilities. Ancient civilizations revered bears, attributing them with wisdom and strength. Native American tribes, for example, saw bears as symbols of power and spiritual significance.

Pioneering Research in Bear Intelligence

As scientific inquiry gained momentum, researchers began to systematically explore bear intelligence, leading to significant discoveries.

1. Problem-Solving Skills

In the 1960s, pioneering studies on captive bears illuminated their problem-solving abilities. These experiments involved tasks such as navigating mazes and solving puzzles to access food rewards. These early findings demonstrated that bears possessed a remarkable aptitude for complex problem-solving, showcasing their cognitive flexibility and adaptability.

2. Memory and Navigation

Research on bear memory, both in the wild and in captivity, unveiled their exceptional long-term memory capabilities. Bears could remember the locations of reliable food sources, even after hibernation. This memory prowess plays a pivotal role in their foraging strategies and overall survival.

3. Learning from Observation

Studies on bear learning aptitude revealed their capacity to learn from observation. Mother bears, in particular, were found to be skilled teachers. Cubs acquire crucial survival skills by watching and mimicking their mothers, underscoring the power of observational learning within bear society.

4. Communication Skills

While not known for vocal communication, bears employ non-verbal cues such as body language and scent marking. These forms of communication serve various purposes, including asserting dominance, conveying presence, and sharing social information with fellow bears. Early research in this realm hinted at the complexity of bear social dynamics.

Landmark Studies in Bear Intelligence

Lynn rogers’ research.

One of the most influential bear biologists, Lynn Rogers, conducted extensive studies on black bears, offering valuable insights into their cognitive abilities. His research involved close observation of wild black bears in their natural habitats. Through this work, he uncovered the intricacies of bear behavior, their problem-solving skills, and their remarkable adaptability.

Yellowstone National Park Studies

Yellowstone National Park has been a hotspot for bear research . Studies conducted within the park have examined various facets of bear intelligence, including their foraging strategies and interactions with other species. These investigations have shed light on the complex relationships between bears and their environment.

Grizzly Bear Research in Alaska

Researchers in Alaska have focused on grizzly bears and their cognitive abilities. Studies have showcased their problem-solving skills, particularly in obtaining food, such as flipping rocks to find insects. These findings underscore the resourcefulness of grizzlies in their quest for sustenance.

Continuing the Quest for Knowledge

While past discoveries and studies have illuminated many facets of bear intelligence, the pursuit of knowledge continues. Modern research employs cutting-edge technology like GPS tracking, genetic analysis, and advanced behavioral studies to gain deeper insights into bear cognition, behavior, and ecological roles.

The intriguing world of bear intelligence has been shaped by centuries of observation, folklore, and scientific research. From their problem-solving prowess to their remarkable memory and learning capabilities, bears continue to fascinate researchers and nature enthusiasts. Notable scientists like Lynn Rogers have played pivotal roles in advancing our understanding of bear intelligence. As we build upon the foundations of past research, the ongoing quest for knowledge promises to unveil even more about the intricate cognitive abilities that make bears one of the most captivating species in the animal kingdom.

The post How Smart Are Bears? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence appeared first on AZ Animals .

Mother bears are known for being very good teachers to their cubs. ©Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock.com

Read our research on: Immigration & Migration | Podcasts | Election 2024

Regions & Countries

How americans view the situation at the u.s.-mexico border, its causes and consequences, 80% say the u.s. government is doing a bad job handling the migrant influx.

problem solving social research

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand the public’s views about the large number of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. at the border with Mexico. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,140 adults from Jan. 16-21, 2024. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for the report and its methodology .

The growing number of migrants seeking entry into the United States at its border with Mexico has strained government resources, divided Congress and emerged as a contentious issue in the 2024 presidential campaign .

Chart shows Why do Americans think there is an influx of migrants to the United States?

Americans overwhelmingly fault the government for how it has handled the migrant situation. Beyond that, however, there are deep differences – over why the migrants are coming to the U.S., proposals for addressing the situation, and even whether it should be described as a “crisis.”

Factors behind the migrant influx

Economic factors – either poor conditions in migrants’ home countries or better economic opportunities in the United States – are widely viewed as major reasons for the migrant influx.

About seven-in-ten Americans (71%), including majorities in both parties, cite better economic opportunities in the U.S. as a major reason.

There are wider partisan differences over other factors.

About two-thirds of Americans (65%) say violence in migrants’ home countries is a major reason for why a large number of immigrants have come to the border.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 30 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to cite this as a major reason (79% vs. 49%).

By contrast, 76% of Republicans say the belief that U.S. immigration policies will make it easy to stay in the country once they arrive is a major factor. About half as many Democrats (39%) say the same.

For more on Americans’ views of these and other reasons, visit Chapter 2.

How serious is the situation at the border?

A sizable majority of Americans (78%) say the large number of migrants seeking to enter this country at the U.S.-Mexico border is eithera crisis (45%) or a major problem (32%), according to the Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan. 16-21, 2024, among 5,140 adults.

Related: Migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border hit a record high at the end of 2023 .

Chart shows Border situation viewed as a ‘crisis’ by most Republicans; Democrats are more likely to call it a ‘problem’

  • Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to describe the situation as a “crisis”: 70% of Republicans say this, compared with just 22% of Democrats.
  • Democrats mostly view the situation as a major problem (44%) or minor problem (26%) for the U.S. Very few Democrats (7%) say it is not a problem.

In an open-ended question , respondents voice their concerns about the migrant influx. They point to numerous issues, including worries about how the migrants are cared for and general problems with the immigration system.

Yet two concerns come up most frequently:

  • 22% point to the economic burdens associated with the migrant influx, including the strains migrants place on social services and other government resources.
  • 22% also cite security concerns. Many of these responses focus on crime (10%), terrorism (10%) and drugs (3%).

When asked specifically about the impact of the migrant influx on crime in the United States, a majority of Americans (57%) say the large number of migrants seeking to enter the country leads to more crime. Fewer (39%) say this does not have much of an impact on crime in this country.

Republicans (85%) overwhelmingly say the migrant surge leads to increased crime in the U.S. A far smaller share of Democrats (31%) say the same; 63% of Democrats instead say it does not have much of an impact.

Government widely criticized for its handling of migrant influx

For the past several years, the federal government has gotten low ratings for its handling of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Note: The wording of this question has been modified modestly to reflect circumstances at the time).

Chart shows Only about a quarter of Democrats and even fewer Republicans say the government has done a good job dealing with large number of migrants at the border

However, the current ratings are extraordinarily low.

Just 18% say the U.S. government is doing a good job dealing with the large number of migrants at the border, while 80% say it is doing a bad job, including 45% who say it is doing a very bad job.

  • Republicans’ views are overwhelmingly negative (89% say it’s doing a bad job), as they have been since Joe Biden became president.
  • 73% of Democrats also give the government negative ratings, the highest share recorded during Biden’s presidency.

For more on Americans’ evaluations of the situation, visit Chapter 1 .

Which policies could improve the border situation?

There is no single policy proposal, among the nine included on the survey, that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say would improve the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. There are areas of relative agreement, however.

A 60% majority of Americans say that increasing the number of immigration judges and staff in order to make decisions on asylum more quickly would make the situation better. Only 11% say it would make things worse, while 14% think it would not make much difference.

Nearly as many (56%) say creating more opportunities for people to legally immigrate to the U.S. would make the situation better.

Chart shows Most Democrats and nearly half of Republicans say boosting resources for quicker decisions on asylum cases would improve situation at Mexico border

Majorities of Democrats say each of these proposals would make the border situation better.

Republicans are less positive than are Democrats; still, about 40% or more of Republicans say each would improve the situation, while far fewer say they would make things worse.

Opinions on other proposals are more polarized. For example, a 56% majority of Democrats say that adding resources to provide safe and sanitary conditions for migrants arriving in the U.S. would be a positive step forward.

Republicans not only are far less likely than Democrats to view this proposal positively, but far more say it would make the situation worse (43%) than better (17%).

Chart shows Wide partisan gaps in views of expanding border wall, providing ‘safe and sanitary conditions’ for migrants

Building or expanding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was among the most divisive policies of Donald Trump’s presidency. In 2019, 82% of Republicans favored expanding the border wall , compared with just 6% of Democrats.

Today, 72% of Republicans say substantially expanding the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico would make the situation better. Just 15% of Democrats concur, with most saying either it would not make much of a difference (47%) or it would make things worse (24%).

For more on Americans’ reactions to policy proposals, visit Chapter 3 .

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Table of contents, fast facts on how greeks see migrants as greece-turkey border crisis deepens, americans’ immigration policy priorities: divisions between – and within – the two parties, from the archives: in ’60s, americans gave thumbs-up to immigration law that changed the nation, around the world, more say immigrants are a strength than a burden, latinos have become less likely to say there are too many immigrants in u.s., most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .


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  1. Social Problem Solving: Theory and Assessment.

    social problem solving,assessment Index Terms *Measurement; *Problem Solving; *Social Behavior; *Social Skills; Theories In this chapter we describe the social problem-solving model that has generated most of the research and training programs presented in the remaining chapters of this volume.

  2. Problem solving through values: A challenge for thinking and capability

    The analysis of the literature revealed a wide field of problem solving research presenting a range of more theoretical insights rather empirical evidence. Despite this, to date, a comprehensive model that reveals how to solve problems emphasizing thinking about values is lacking. ... Dostál J. Theory of problem solving. Procedia-Social and ...

  3. Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training.

    Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training. Citation Chang, E. C., D'Zurilla, T. J., & Sanna, L. J. (Eds.). (2004). Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training. American Psychological Association. https:// https://doi.org/10.1037/10805-000 Book Collection Abstract

  4. (PDF) Social Problem Solving: Theory and Assessment.

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    In early problem-solving research, problem solving was treated as a unidimensional and linear solution-seeking process. ... interactions and the affordances of different social environments may also play a role in facilitating or hindering problem solving. These social factors could affect a person's development of problem-solving competence ...

  6. Social Problem Solving and Health

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  11. The Research Problem/Question

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    Background The complex health system and challenging patient care environment require experienced nurses, especially those with high cognitive skills such as problem-solving, decision- making and critical thinking. Therefore, this study investigated the impact of social problem-solving training on nursing students' critical thinking and decision-making. Methods This study was quasi ...

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    Sociologists study human interactions at the smallest micro unit of how parents and children bond, to the widest macro lens of what causes war throughout recorded history. They explore microaggressions, those small moments of interaction that reinforce prejudice in small but powerful ways.

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    Social problem-solving is generally considered to apply to four different types of problems: Impersonal problems, for example, shortage of money; Personal problems, for example, emotional or health problems; Interpersonal problems, such as disagreements with other people; and Community and wider societal problems, such as litter or crime rate.

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    42-3111 BF449 2004-24 CIP Social problem solving: theory, research, and training, ed. by Edward C. Chang, Thomas J. D'Zurilla, and Lawrence J. Sanna. American Psychological Association, 2004. 276p bibl indexes ISBN 1591471478, $39.95

  19. Problem Solving in Social Work Practice: Implications for Knowledge

    Issue 3 https://doi.org/10.1177/104973159100100306 Contents Get access More Abstract An examination of the way in which social workers use knowledge suggests an instrumental approach to knowledge use. This approach has important implications for moving the profession toward greater accountability in the practice of social work.

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    Similarly, Boaler's (Citation 2006) research revealed that mathematics instruction centered around problem-solving and collaboration may support students in valuing others' perspectives and developing positive social relationships. The current study extends these lines of literature by showing that learning by 'talking and doing' can ...

  21. (PDF) Social Work: A Problem Solving Profession

    In the research, a personal information form, a metacognitive awareness inventory, a teacher self-efficacy scale and a problem-solving inventory were used as the data collection tools.

  22. The building blocks of social competence: Contributions of the

    Social problem solving (Rose‐Krasnor, 1997; Rose-Krasnor and Denham, 2009) can be considered a logical continuation of the previous skill (social encoding), as it centers on responding in such a way to achieve social goals, such as solving conflicts with peers or gaining access to peer play.

  23. EURA Winner Sabrina Vlk

    The Office of Undergraduate Research proudly presents 2024 EURA Winner Sabrina Vlk Sabrina Vlk currently studies Mechanical Engineering as a junior at the University of Iowa. In addition, she is working toward a minor in Mathematics and earning an AIMS certificate.

  24. A once-ignored community of science sleuths now has the research

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  25. Social Research: Definitions, Types, Nature, and Characteristics

    Sarantakos describes that applied social research is mostly conducted with a problem-solving approach for a particular social problem. It aims to investigate existing knowledge and problems rather than to formulate new knowledge or theory. ... social research may provide remedial measures for social problems. Social research has a wide range of ...

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  27. Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training.

    Abstract We put together a book that would offer readers multiple perspectives, insights, and directions in understanding social problem solving as an important theory that has driven wide-ranging scientific research and as an important means of training to empower and elevate the lives of individuals.

  28. How Smart Are Bears? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

    They exhibit advanced problem-solving skills, complex social structures, and sophisticated communication. While dolphins excel in these areas, bears demonstrate a different set of skills, with ...

  29. The U.S.-Mexico Border: How Americans View the ...

    Democrats mostly view the situation as a major problem (44%) or minor problem (26%) for the U.S. Very few Democrats (7%) say it is not a problem. In an open-ended question, respondents voice their concerns about the migrant influx. They point to numerous issues, including worries about how the migrants are cared for and general problems with ...