Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 175–186 | Cite as

Social Problem-Solving Processes and Mood in College Students: An Examination of Self-report and Performance-based Approaches

  • Rachel J. Anderson
  • Lorna Goddard
  • Jane H. Powell
Original Article


Previous research has consistently linked poor problem-solving with depression and anxiety. However, much of this research has failed to directly assess real-life problem-solving, relying on self-appraisal or responses to hypothetical problems. This study examined real-life problem-solving in three groups of college students: non-depressed/non-anxious controls; anxious; and mixed depressed/anxious. Participants completed a diary of the interpersonal problems they encountered, and their attempts to solve them. Real-life social problem-solving was also assessed by asking participants to recall past problem solutions. Participants also completed the Social Problem-Solving Inventory-Revised (SPSI-R) and the Mean Ends Problem Solving (MEPS) task. The real-life problem-solving tasks revealed significant differences between the groups, with the mixed depression/anxiety participants exhibiting less effective strategies compared to the control group. However, there were no group differences in MEPS performance, or within the constructive problem-solving style component of the SPSI-R. No deficits were found within the anxious group. Both the anxious and the mixed depressed/anxious groups expressed negative attitudes towards problem-solving. Results have implications for social problem-solving research and suggest that current assessment procedures may be unable to detect impairments in real life problem-solving. Therefore a diary procedure where individuals record their response to the problems they encounter in everyday life may prove a valuable addition to the current battery of assessment procedures.


Depression Anxiety Social problem-solving Ecological validity 



This research was supported by an Economic and Social Research Council Doctoral studentship awarded to the first author. We are very grateful to the anonymous reviewers whose helpful comments have been incorporated within this script.


  1. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1977). Attitude-behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research. Psychological Bulletin, 84, 888–918.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alloy, L., Kelly, K., Mineka, S., & Clements, C. (1990). Comorbidity in anxiety, depressive disorders: A helplessness/hopelessness perspective. In J. D. Maser & C. R. Cloniger (Eds.), Co-morbidity of mood and anxiety disorders (pp. 499–543). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J., & Erbaugh, J. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 562–563(4), 561–571.Google Scholar
  4. Bjelland, I., Dahl, A. A., Tangen Haug, T., & Neckelmann, D. (2002). The validity of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale: An updated literature review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 52(2), 69–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, T. A., Campbell, L. A., Lehman, C. L., Grisham, J. R., & Mancill, R. B. (2001). Current and lifetime comorbidity of the DSM-IV anxiety and mood disorders in a large clinical sample. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 585–599.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Butler, L., & Meichenbaum, D. (1981). The assessment of interpersonal problem solving. In P. C. Kendall & S. D. Hollen (Eds.), Assessment strategies for cognitive-behavioural interventions (pp. 197–225). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Davey, G. (1994). Worrying, social problem-solving abilities, and social problem-solving confidence. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 32(3), 327–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davey, G., Jubb, M., & Cameron, C. (1996). Catastrophic worrying as a function of changes in problem-solving confidence. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20(4), 333–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dugas, M. J., Gagnon, F., Ladouceur, R., & Freeston, M. H. (1998). Generalised Anxiety Disorder: A preliminary test of a conceptual model. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 36, 215–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. D’Zurilla, T. J., Chang, E. C., Nottingham, E. J., & Faccini, L. (1998). Social problem-solving deficits and hopelessness, depression and suicidal risk in college students and psychiatric inpatients. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 54(8), 1091–1107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. D’Zurilla, T. J., Chang, E. C., & Sanna, L. J. (2004). Social problem solving: Current status and future directions. In E. C. Chang, T. J. D’Zurilla, & L. J. Sanna (Eds.), Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training (pp. 241–254). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. D’Zurilla, T. J., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (1995). Conceptual and methodological issues in social problem-solving assessment. Behavior Therapy, 26, 409–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. D’Zurilla, T. J., Maydeu-Olivares, A., & Kant, G. L. (1998). Age and gender differences in social problem-solving ability. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 241–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. D’Zurilla, T. J., & Nezu, A. M. (1990). Development and preliminary evaluation of the social problem-solving inventory. Psychological Assessment: A Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2(2), 156–163.Google Scholar
  15. D’Zurilla, T. J., & Nezu, A. M. (1999). Problem-solving therapy: A social competence approach to clinical intervention (2nd ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  16. D’Zurilla, T. J., Nezu, A. M., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2002). Social problem solving inventory–revised: Technical manual. New York: Multi-Health Systems Inc.Google Scholar
  17. D’Zurilla, T. J., Nezu, A. M., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2004). Social problem-solving: Theory and assessment. In E. C. Chang, T. J. D’Zurilla & L. J. Sanna (Eds.), Social problem solving: Theory, research, and training (pp. 11–28). Washington, DC: Americal Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. D’Zurilla, T. J., Nezu, A. M., & Nezu, C. M. (2006). Problem-solving therapy: A positive approach to clinical intervention (3rd ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  19. Endler, N. S., Macrodimitris, S. D., & Kocovski, N. L. (2003). Anxiety and depression: Congruent, separate, or both?. Journal of Applied Biobehavioural Research, 8(1), 42–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Foxx, R. M., & Faw, G. D. (2000). The pursuit of actual problem-solving behavior: An opportunity for behaviour analysis. Behavior and Social Issues, 10, 71–81.Google Scholar
  21. Goddard, L., Dritschel, B., & Burton, A. (1996). Role of autobiographical memory in social problem-solving and depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105(4), 609–616.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goddard, L., Dritschel, B., & Burton, A. (1997). Social problem solving and autobiographical memory in non-clinical depression. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 36, 449–451.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Gotlib, I. H., & Asarnow, R. F. (1979). Interpersonal and impersonal problem-solving skills in mildly and clinically depressed university students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 47(1), 86–95.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haaga, D. A. F., Fine, J. A., Terrill, D. R., Stewart, B. L., & Beck, A. T. (1995). Social problem-solving deficits, dependency and depressive symptoms. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 19(2), 147–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Haugh, J. A. (2006). Specificity and social problem-solving: Relation to depressive and anxious symptomatology. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(4), 392–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Herrmann, C. (1997). International experiences with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale - a review of validation data and clinical results. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 42(17–41).Google Scholar
  27. House, R., & Scott, J. (1996). Problems in measuring problem-solving; The suitability of the means-ends problem solving (MEPS) procedure. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 6, 243–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howat, S., & Davidson, K. (2002). Parasuicidal behaviour and interpersonal problem solving performance in older adults. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41, 375–386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kant, G. L., D’Zurilla, T. J., & Maydeu-Olivares, A. (1997). Social problem solving as a mediator of stress-related depression and anxiety in middle-aged and elderly community residents. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 21(1), 73–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62, 593–603.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kessler, R. C., McGonagle, K., Swartz, M., Blazer, D. G., & Nelson, C. B. (1993). Sex and depression in the National Comobidity Survey I: Lifetime prevalence, chronicity and lifetime recurrence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 29, 85–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lewinsohn, P. M., Gotlib, I. H., Lewinsohn, M., Seeley, J. R., & Allen, N. B. (1998). Gender differences in anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms in adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1), 109–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marx, E. M., Williams, J. M. G., & Claridge, G. C. (1992). Depression and social problem solving. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101(1), 78–86.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mayo, V. D., & Tanaka-Matsumi, J. (1996). Think aloud statements and solutions of dysphoric persons on a social problem-solving task. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20(2), 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nezu, A. M. (2004). Problem solving and behavior therapy revisited. Behavior Therapy, 35, 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Platt, J. J., & Spivack, G. (1975). Manual for the Means-Ended Problem Solving (MEPS): A measure of interpersonal problem-solving skill. Philadelphia: Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital.Google Scholar
  37. Robichaud, M., Dugas, M. J., & Conway, M. (2003). Gender differences in worry and associated cognitive-behavioral variables. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17, 501–516.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sandin, B., Chorot, P., Santed, M. A., & Valiente, R. M. (2004). Differences in negative life events between patients with anxiety disorders, depression and hypochondriasis. Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 17(1), 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shewchuck, R. M., Johnson, M. O., & Elliott, T. R. (2000). Self-appraised social problem solving abilities, emotional reactions and actual problem solving performance. Behaviour Research & Therapy, 38, 727–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Snaith, R. P., & Zigmond, A. S. (1994). HADS: Hospital anxiety and depression scale. Windsor: NFER Nelson.Google Scholar
  41. Sorenson, S. B., Rutter, C. M., & Aneshensel, C. S. (1991). Depression in the community; An investigation into age of onset. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 541–546.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Spitzer, R. L., Endicott, J., & Robins, E. (1978). Research diagnostic criteria: Rationale and reliability. Archives of General Psychiatry, 35, 773–782.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. van Nieuwenhuijzen, M., Bijman, E. R., Lamberix, I. C. W., Wijnroks, L., Orobio de Castro, B., Vermeer, A., et al. (2005). Do children do what they say? Responses to hypothetical and real-life social problems in children with mild intellectual disabilities and behaviour problems. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49(6), 419–433.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Vrendenberg, K., Flett, G. L., & Krames, L. (1993). Analogue versus clinical depression: A critical reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 113(2), 327–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weissman, M. M., & Olfson, M. (1995). Depression in women: Implications for health care research. Science, 269, 799–801.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Williams, J. M. G. (1996). Depression and the specificity of autobiographical memory. In D. Rubin (Ed.), Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory (pp. 244–267). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Wittchen, H. U., Kessler, R., Pfister, H., & Lieb, M. (2000). Why do people with anxiety disorders become depressed? A prospective-longitudinal community study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 102(S406), 14–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zigmond, A. S., & Snaith, R. P. (1983). The hospital anxiety and depression scale. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 67, 361–370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel J. Anderson
    • 1
  • Lorna Goddard
    • 1
  • Jane H. Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, GoldsmithsUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations