Enhancing Children’s Social Emotional Functioning Through Virtual Game-Based Delivery of Social Skills Training

Abstract

Social skills training (SST) programs can be an effective means of improving children’s social skills and behavior. However, significant time, financial, and opportunity barriers limit the number of children who can benefit from in-person SST programs. In this study, we conducted an initial evaluation of the efficacy of Zoo U, an interactive online game for elementary-age children that translates evidence-based social emotional learning strategies into tailored social problem-solving scenes in a virtual world. Children were randomly assigned to either treatment (n = 23) or wait-list control (n = 24) and were compared on parent-report of their social and behavioral adjustment, as well as self-report of social self-efficacy, social satisfaction, and social skill literacy. Following participation in the Zoo U game-based SST program, the treatment group showed enhanced social skills in the areas of impulse control, emotion regulation, and social initiation, as well as more adaptive social behavior compared to the control group. Children in the treatment group also reported significant improvements in their feelings of social self-efficacy and social satisfaction, as well as higher social literacy at post-intervention compared to children in the control condition. This study provides preliminary evidence that a game-based approach to SST can be an effective method for improving children’s social skills and enhancing social knowledge, functioning, and self-confidence. Discussion focuses on the need for further investigation to establish the role that game-based SST can play in supporting children’s social growth and wellbeing.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a grant from the United States Department of Education, Institute of Education Science (Grant #ED-IES-11-C-0039) to 3C Institute.

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Correspondence to Ashley B. Craig.

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Conflict of interest

Conflicts of interest exist. The game-based social skills training program, Zoo U, was developed and by 3C Institute. The Zoo U software is commercially available. Melissa DeRosier is the CEO of 3C Institute and has intellectual property rights for Zoo U.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent/assent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Craig, A.B., Brown, E.R., Upright, J. et al. Enhancing Children’s Social Emotional Functioning Through Virtual Game-Based Delivery of Social Skills Training. J Child Fam Stud 25, 959–968 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-015-0274-8

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Keywords

  • Social skills training
  • Game-based learning
  • Social-emotional learning