Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social problem solving is generally thought to involve five sequential steps. These steps include encoding, interpretation, response search, response evaluation, and response selection. Acquiring social problem solving skills is a critical aspect of normal child development. These skills are necessary for effective interpersonal interactions with the peers and adults in a child's environment. Family interactions are thought to play a central role in the development of children's social problem solving abilities. In families where the parent-child relationship is extremely dysfunctional, as in cases of maltreatment, the social problem solving abilities of children would then be expected to show some impairment. The present study sought to examine how childhood histories of physical abuse, neglect, and exposure to wife assault were associated with different aspects of children's social problem solving abilities. Differential results according to sex were also considered.;Information about children's maltreatment histories was obtained from maternal and social worker reports. Boys and girls aged 8-13 completed a variety of social problem solving tasks. Results indicated that children with histories of childhood maltreatment showed some impairments in their social problem solving abilities. For example, a maltreatment history of physical abuse was associated with difficulties in interpretation and response selection. Similarly, a maltreatment history of exposure to wife abuse was associated with difficulties in response selection. Other results indicated that interactions between forms of maltreatment added to the prediction of response selection. For example, as exposure to wife abuse increased, the relationship between physical abuse and internalizing responses became weaker. Similarly, as exposure to verbal aggression increased, the relationship between wife abuse and externalizing responses became weaker. Children's sex was found to moderate some of the relationships between maltreatment and social problem solving abilities. Significant sex by maltreatment interactions were found for six of the eight measures of social problem solving used. Further, sex moderated the relationship between social problem solving abilities only for children with maltreatment histories of physical abuse and neglect but not exposure to wife abuse. Finally, interactions between sex and physical abuse indicated that girls showed stronger associations with interpretation, response generation, and some aspects of response selection (internalizing and externalizing responses). Interactions between sex and neglect indicated that boys showed stronger associations with aspects of response selection (social competence, externalizing responses). Results suggest a strong sex differentiation in social problem solving abilities.



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