Social competence is vital for healthy development (Canto-Sperber & Dupuy, 2001; Spence, Barrett & Tuner, 2003). Beginning in childhood and heavily influenced by culture, social competence develops as we combine personal and environmental resources for positive social outcomes and includes the absence of negative behaviors alongside the presence of positive behaviors (Bierman & Welsh, 2008; Davidson, 2001). Social competence is particularly demonstrated through our verbal and nonverbal communication skills with others: categorized as pragmatic language. Often introduced in kindergarten, these skills include how to greet others, take turns, make requests, interpret cues and respond appropriately to others.
Intellectual functioning has a role in social competence. While individuals may have the capacity to use long complex sentences with correct grammar, if they have not mastered the rules for social language their ability to communicate may be impaired. Most studies of the psychological characteristics of students with high intelligence have not demonstrated clinical symptoms beyond those of the general population, yet the absence of significant differences in clinical symptoms are often equated to having social competence (Lehman & Erdwins, 1985; Neihart, Reis, Robinson, & Moon, 2002; Rimm, 1995; Robinson, Lanzi, Weinberg, Ramey, & Ramey, 2002; Rose-Krasner, 2006). While the connection between communication skills and social competence is known for the general population and for students with diagnosed social difficulties, little is known about either the social competence of students with high intelligence, or the role pragmatic language skills have in their observed social competence (Merrell, Merz, Johnson, & Ring, 1992).
This study replicates earlier research by affirming a negative relationship between high intelligence and psychopathology and poor social competence, yet goes beyond mere quantification of these characteristics to investigate the presence of underlying social language skills and association between pragmatic language and social competence. Multisource indices of social competence, clinical pathology and pragmatic language were gathered on a sample of 79 children, aged 7–10 years with intelligence quotient scores above 130 (FSIQ > 130). Parents report lower incidence of clinically defined internalizing, externalizing and total problems for these students when compared to the general population. While students’ scores on the measure of pragmatic language did not predict their scores on the measure of social competence, they did demonstrate less frequency of clinical scores on pragmatic language than the general population and teachers report them as being more adjusted to school. This study contributes significantly to the literature by providing objective evidence of psychopathology, social competence and pragmatic language for a quantifiable sample of students with high intelligence. Methodological considerations are discussed, as are implications for further research.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2013. Major: Educational Psychology. Advisor: Scott R. McConnell, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 119 pages, appendices A-G.
Schirvar, Wendi Margaret.
Investigating social competence in students with high intelligence.
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