Social Development

Citation: Huitt, W. (2011). Social Development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

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When Aronson (2003) first published The Social Animal in 1972, he confirmed scientifically what people knew experientially: Human beings are social in their very nature.  In fact, Dunbar (1998) hypothesized that the large human brain evolved primarily to adapt to an increasingly complex social environment. Albrecht (2005) and Goleman (2006) provided recent reviews of the literature on social intelligence and developing social competence.

At its core, social development includes making and maintaining friendships, working collaboratively in groups, and establishing and maintaining intimate relationships.  Goleman (2006) identified two basic categories of developing social intelligence, each with four specific subcomponents: Social Awareness (primal empathy, attunement, empathetic accuracy, and social cognition) and Social Facility (synchrony, self-preservation, influence, and concern). The School Social Behavior Scales (SSBS), one of the most widely used assessment instruments for students in K-12 classrooms, is actually comprised of two scales: (1) the Social Competence Scale, and (2) the Antisocial Behavior Scale (Merrell, 1993). In turn, the Social Competence Scale is comprised of three sets of skills: (1) interpersonal skills, (2) self-management skills, and (3) academic skills.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2003, 2007), one of the leaders in the development of social-emotional learning (SEL), identified five teachable competencies that they believe provide a foundation for effective personal development:

  1. Self-awareness: knowing what one is feeling and thinking; having a realistic assessment of one’s own abilities and a well-grounded sense of self-confidence;
  2. Social awareness: understanding what others are feeling and thinking; appreciating and interacting positively with diverse groups;
  3. Self-management: handling one’s emotions so they facilitate rather than interfere with task achievement; setting and accomplishing goals; persevering in the face of setbacks and frustrations;
  4. Relationship skills: establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on clear communication, cooperation, resistance to inappropriate social pressure, negotiating solutions to conflict, and seeking help when needed; and
  5. Responsible decision making: making choices based on an accurate consideration of all relevant factors and the likely consequences of alternative courses of action, respecting others, and taking responsibility for one's decisions.
CASEL and like-minded researchers proposed that school curricula must provide learning experiences that address students’ development in the academic, emotional, social, and moral domains (Cohen, 2006; Elbertson, Brackett, & Weissberg, 2010; Elias, & Arnold, 2006; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Notice that the five competencies listed above involved the domains of cognition/thinking (responsible decision making), affect/emotion (self-awareness and self-management—handling one’s emotions), and conation/self-regulation (self-management—setting and accomplishing goals; persevering), in addition to the social domain (social awareness, relationship skills). These researchers suggested that by developing a safe and secure environment and directly teaching the above listed social-emotional competencies, students will not only be more academically engaged, thereby learning more academic material, but also less likely to engage in risky behavior that would be detrimental to their development. Additionally, they proposed that when schools form partnerships with the families and community organizations of students they serve, the impact of the school is made even stronger (Patrikakou, & Weissberg, 2007; Zins et al., 2007).