Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Specht, Jacqueline


Social Information Processing (SIP) informs the way we engage in social problem solving, such as conflict management. Although research has shown that adolescents with intellectual disability (ID) struggle more with the components of SIP when compared to typically developing peers, very little research has examined how adolescents with ID experience conflict with peers. This study examines the way adolescents with and without ID report experiencing and responding to conflict with best friends and non-friends utilizing their own rather than hypothetical scenarios. Nineteen adolescents (14 adolescents without ID and 5 with ID) were interviewed about their own real-life conflict experiences with best friends and non-friends using questions from the Social Problem-Solving Test-Mild Intellectual Disabilities. Interviews were qualitatively coded using a thematic analysis. Findings indicate that (a) adolescents with ID perceived less hostile intentions compared to adolescents without ID, (b) adolescents with ID described more submissive responses to conflict in both best friend and non-friend conflict situations compared to adolescents without ID, (c) adolescents with ID reported engaging in active conflict management strategies as often as adolescents without ID in the context of non-friend conflicts, and (d) adolescents with ID relied more heavily on adult and peer support to manage conflict compared to adolescents without ID. This study demonstrates that adolescents with ID are able to manage conflict independently, and will benefit from adult support in learning how to do so. Importantly, this study is the first to examine how adolescents with and without ID engage in SIP steps in the context of their own experiences.

Summary for Lay Audience

Social Information Processing (SIP) is a theory developed to help understand how we experience interactions with the people around us. This theory breaks interactions into five steps which includes taking in the information around us, making sense of it, setting our goals in the interaction, choosing how we will respond, and then responding. Researchers who study this area have found that adolescents with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the mild range are more likely than typically developing adolescents to describe a peer’s actions as being done on purpose, and to respond by being aggressive or giving into the peer. This study looked at how adolescents with and without intellectual disabilities in the mild range described their experiences with conflict with a best friend and someone they are not friends with (non-friend). I found that the adolescents with ID in this study described both best friends and non-friends as acting by accident or both by accident and on purpose. These adolescents were less likely than typically developing adolescents to see peers’ actions as being on purpose or trying to cause harm. Adolescents with ID described giving into peers more often than typically developing adolescents. However, adolescents with ID described active responses such as compromising, or doing what was best for themselves as often as typically developing adolescents in the non-friend conflict. Adolescents with ID needed help from adults or peers more often than adolescents without ID. This study showed that adolescents with ID can manage conflict on their own, but they need help from adults to develop the skills to do this. Researchers normally look at social information processing steps in adolescents with ID using stories they give them. This is the first study that used adolescents’ own experiences to talk about how they go through social information processing steps to manage conflicts.