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Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness


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We examined whether kindergarten teachers' ratings of children's prosocial skills, an indicator of noncognitive ability at school entry, predict key adolescent and adult outcomes. Our goal was to determine unique associations over and above other important child, family, and contextual characteristics. Data came from the Fast Track study of low-socioeconomic status neighborhoods in 3 cities and 1 rural setting. We assessed associations between measured outcomes in kindergarten and outcomes 13 to 19 years later (1991-2000). Models included numerous control variables representing characteristics of the child, family, and context, enabling us to explore the unique contributions among predictors. We found statistically significant associations between measured social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health. A kindergarten measure of social-emotional skills may be useful for assessing whether children are at risk for deficits in noncognitive skills later in life and, thus, help identify those in need of early intervention. These results demonstrate the relevance of noncognitive skills in development for personal and public health outcomes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630).
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Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The
Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence
and Future Wellness
Damon E. Jones, PhD, Mark Greenberg, PhD, and Max Crowley, PhD
Understanding what early characteristics pre-
dict future outcomes could be of great value in
helping children develop into healthy adults. In
recent years, much research has been directed
toward understanding noncognitive traits in
children that may increase the likelihood of
healthy personal development and eventual
adult well-being.
For predicting future success
in the workplace, levels of cognitive ability
measured through IQ or test scores alone are
less predictive than measures of educational
attainment, which require not just cognitive
ability but also noncognitive characteristics
such as self-discipline, academic motivation,
and interpersonal skills.
Future likelihood of
committing crimes is greatly inuenced by
noncognitive processes in development, such
as externalizing behavior, social empathy, and
effectively regulating emotions.
A recent study
found that noncognitive ability in the form of
self-control in childhood was predictive of adult
outcomes ranging from physical health to crime
to substance abuse.
The value of noncognitive
skills has also been determined through eval-
uation of interventions such as the landmark
Perry Preschool program, in which improve-
ments in noncognitive skills related to behavior
and academic motivation were found to be
central to long-term effects on crime and
Inadequate levels of social and emotional
functioning are increasingly recognized as
central to many public health problems (e.g.,
substance abuse, obesity, violence). Just as re-
searchers study how academic achievement
in a population can lift groups out of poverty,
public health scientists are now studying how
these noncognitive factors affect health and
wellness across domains.
Classication of characteristics into com-
plementary cognitive and noncognitive
categories is a convenient way to characterize
competencies in human development. Cogni-
tive skills involve achievement-oriented tasks,
such as problem solving, and academic abilities,
which are measured by achievement tests; the
noncognitive category covers everything else,
such as behavioral characteristics, emotion
regulation, attention, self-regulation, and social
skills. Designation of cognitive versus noncog-
nitive skills oversimplies the complexity of
skills and the role of cognition. Cognitive skills
are involved not only in intelligence and
achievement, but also in attention, emotion
regulation, attitudes, motivation, and the con-
duct of social relationships (e.g., Farrington
et al. provide an overview of noncognitive traits
in educational research
Noncognitive skills interact with cognitive
skills to enable success in school and the
This is most easily seen in an
educational setting. Achievement is driven
by intellectual ability as well as by the
self-regulation, positive attitudes, motivation,
and conscientiousness that are required to
complete educational milestones. Substantial
differences in noncognitive skills have been
found between those who graduate from high
school on time and those who complete a gen-
eral equivalency diploma, as reected in sub-
sequent adult and economic outcomes.
Interpersonal skills are also important for chil-
dren navigating the social setting, and positive
interactions with adults are essential for success
in school. Success in school involves both
social-emotional and cognitive skills, because
social interactions, attention, and self-control
affect readiness for learning.
An additional feature of noncognitive com-
petencies is that they may be more malleable
than cognitive skills and thus may be appro-
priate targets for prevention or intervention
Of course, the degree to which this
is true depends on the specic skill and on
Objectives. We examined whether kindergarten teachers’ ratings of children’s
prosocial skills, an indicator of noncognitive ability at school entry, predict key
adolescent and adult outcomes. Our goal was to determine unique associations
over and above other important child, family, and contextual characteristics.
Methods. Data came from the Fast Track study of low–socioeconomic status
neighborhoods in 3 cities and 1 rural setting. We assessed associations between
measured outcomes in kindergarten and outcomes 13 to 19 years later (1991–
2000). Models included numerous control variables representing characteristics
of the child, family, and context, enabling us to explore the unique contributions
among predictors.
Results. We found statistically significant associations between measured
social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across
multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use,
and mental health.
Conclusions. A kindergarten measure of social-emotional skills may be useful
for assessing whether children are at risk for deficits in noncognitive skills later in
life and, thus, help identify those in need of early intervention. These results
demonstrate the relevance of noncognitive skills in development for personal
and public health outcomes. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of
print July 16, 2015: e1–e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630)
Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015 |American Journal of Public Health Jones et al. |Peer Reviewed |Research and Practice |e1
multiple factors associated with childrens
characteristics and environment. Regardless,
a challenge lies in effectively assessing chil-
drens competencies at an early enough age
that intervention or prevention efforts might be
introduced. Although an assessment at any 1
point may be inadequate for summarizing an
individuals overall noncognitive competencies,
it is useful to know what early competencies
predict future success and avoidance of prob-
lems. This is especially relevant in light of
studies showing the value of enhancing the
social-behavioral and learning environment of
young children,
to foster positive child de-
velopment as well as to alter adult health and
labor market outcomes.
11, 14
A key characteristic of noncognitive ability
in young children is social competence. Social
competence encompasses both the ability to
complete tasks and manage responsibilities and
effective skills for handling social and emo-
tional experiences. Childrens social compe-
tence can be assessed by their kindergarten
teachers, who observe many instances in which
children need to manage relations with peers
and adults. The school setting provides the
opportunity to observe childrens abilities to
interact interpersonally as they cooperate with
others to complete daily tasks and resolve
conicts. Such skills are important for success-
ful progression in early grades.
We investigated how well key late adoles-
cent and early adult outcomes were predicted
by teacher ratings of childrens social compe-
tence (1 indicator of early noncognitive ability)
measured many years previously in kinder-
garten in participants from low---socioeconomic
status neighborhoods. Specically, we exam-
ined how a measure of early prosocial skills
predicted outcomes spanning important sectors
of education, employment, criminal justice,
substance use, and mental health domains.
We used a straightforward analytic approach:
modeling the link between social competence
measured in kindergarten and outcomes mea-
sured 13 to 19 years later. These models did
not determine causal associations, despite the
temporal ordering between predictors and
outcomes. However, inclusion of several con-
trol variables, representing various character-
istics of the child and family context, enabled us
to explore the unique contribution of featured
For predictors we focused on the earliest age
for which data were available: measures ob-
tained when children were in kindergarten.
Throughout the analytic process we found it
useful to consider whether other important
background variables predicted future out-
comes. However, our primary objective was
to determine how well an inexpensive,
easily obtained snapshot of social competence
at formal entrance to school predicted
important outcomes, after adjustment for
other expected inuences on development,
such as family circumstances, gender, academic
ability, and behavior. If such a measure
can identify early noncognitive deciencies,
this could provide important information
for determining potential targets for early
We used data from the longitudinal, non-
intervention subsample of the Fast Track
Project, an intervention program designed to
reduce aggression in children identied as at
high risk for long-term behavioral problems
and conduct disorders.
The Fast Track
study design comprised an intervention group
and a matched control group sample of high-
risk children as well as a non---high-risk (nor-
mative) subsample of students attending
control schools. We focused on the high-risk
control students and the normative sample
those individuals who did not receive any
Fast Track prevention services. The total
sample size was 753 (high-risk control group,
n = 367; non---high-risk, normative group,
n = 386).
Participants were recruited from the 4
study sites (3 urban, 1 rural): Durham, North
Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Seattle,
Washington; and central Pennsylvania. Further
information on the Fast Track Project sample
recruitment process is available in study pub-
In the total sample, 58% were
boys, about 50% were White, 46% were
African American, and 4% had other racial/
ethnic backgrounds. The study oversampled
higher-risk students, and we employed sam-
pling probability weights in all analyses. More
information on the design is provided in Ap-
pendix A, which describes the screening and
recruitment process (available as a supplement
to the online version of this article at http://
The project rst collected data when chil-
dren were attending kindergarten; initial data
collection for the rst cohort took place in
1991. Final follow-up data were collected 19
years later, when participants were aged ap-
proximately 25 years. Participation from the
original sample was high, and we found no
differential response in analyses considering
a range of baseline variables. More detail on
this assessment and the follow-up sample are
provided in a recent study of long-term in-
tervention effects.
Our outcome measures concerned educa-
tion, employment, public assistance, crime,
mental health, and substance use. The project
measured all outcomes through late adoles-
cence or early adulthood. We included rele-
vant background variables in the models to
control for characteristics of the children at
kindergarten age and their families. Most im-
portantly, we selected control variables that
would better enable identication of unique
prediction attributable to early social skills.
Thus, models included variables representing
family demographics (gender, race, number
of parents in the home, socioeconomic status),
early childhood aggression (both in school and
at home), early academic ability, and other
contextual factors. We did not include the
indicator for gender in models of justice system
outcomes because of the very low rate of
criminal offenses among female participants.
We did not include region as a covariate in
models. Initially we included 3 dummy vari-
ables to represent project site, but we removed
this covariate when initial tests indicated little
difference between regions on the study out-
come variables.
Table 1 provides the outcomes and control
variables for all analytic models, with informa-
tion on the scales used and the data sources.
Appendix A (available as an online supple-
ment) provides more details on measurement
sources and scale reliabilities for all variables
used in analyses.
To represent social competence in kinder-
garten, we chose the Prosocial---Communication
Skills subscale of the Social Competence Scale.
The score combined 9 items that teachers rated
on a 5-point Likert scale, assessing how the
child interacted socially with others. Examples
e2 |Research and Practice |Peer Reviewed |Jones et al. American Journal of Public Health |Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015
TABLE 1—Measures and Data Sources in Study of Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten as Predictor of Adolescent
and Young Adult Outcomes
Variable Survey Source
Model outcomes
High school graduation on time
National Longitudinal Surveys
College graduation
Currently employed full-time
Stable employment
Years of special education services,
no. School Archival Records Survey
(grades 1–12) School records
Years of repeated grades,
no. School records
Public assistance
On waiting list for public housing
Neighborhoods and Government Programs
Receiving public assistance
Receiving unemployment compensation
Arrests for severe offense,
no. Juvenile and adult court data
Court records
Ever arrested
Service Assessment for Children and Adolescents
Ever arrested
Ever made court appearance
Ever made court appearance
Ever had police contact
Ever stayed in detention facility
Combined outcomes from self-report and criminal records
Self-report, court records
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
Self-Reported Substance Use and Dependence
Drug dependence
Smoked regularly in past month
Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey
Days of binge drinking in past month,
no. Self-report
Days of marijuana use in past month,
no. Self-report
Mental health
Externalizing problems
Young Adult Self-Report
Internalizing problems
Years on medications,
no. Social Health Profile
Primary caregiver
Model predictors (for child at kindergarten age)
Gender (female) Family information form
Primary caregiver
Race (African American) Primary caregiver
Family socioeconomic status (Hollingshead code) Primary caregiver
Mother an adolescent at child’s birth Primary caregiver
Neighborhood total score Neighborhood Questionnaire
Primary caregiver
Life stresses total score Life Changes
Primary caregiver
Letter–word identification score Woodcock–Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery
Administered survey
Authority acceptance Teacher Observation of Child Adaptation–Revised
Externalizing score Child Behavior Checklist
Primary caregiver
Prosocial–communication skills Social Competence Scale
Measured at age 25 years.
Through high school.
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
For emotional or behavioral issues.
Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015 |American Journal of Public Health Jones et al. |Peer Reviewed |Research and Practice |e3
of these items include cooperates with peers
without prompting,”“is helpful to others,”“very
good at understanding feelings,and resolves
problems on own.Internal reliability coef-
cients were very high (a= 0.97), and univariate
assessment demonstrated good distributional
characteristics (unweighted mean = 1.90;
SD = 0.97). The subscale was highly associated
with other subscales in the measure, such as the
Emotion Regulation subscale (r=0.90).
A natural question in this type of research is
whether associations may differ because of
differing background variables. Although we
did not formally investigate potential modera-
tion of associations, we explored whether race
or gender moderated links within domains. We
executed a representative number of models
from each domain with an interaction term
entered for the cross between the potential
moderator and prosocial skills. In this prelim-
inary investigation, we found no patterns of
moderation exerted by race or gender on any
outcome domains. We therefore did not con-
duct extensive tests of moderation (to keep the
number of statistical tests for overall models
manageable). Follow-up research could include
a more specic focus on the potential differ-
ences in linkages within a given outcome
domain across key demographic distinctions.
We used separate regression models for
each study outcome. We regressed dependent
variables on our control variables as well as on
the social competence score. We ran logistic
regressions for all dichotomous outcomes and
count-based regressions for the measures of
amounts. The latter involved Poisson regres-
sion unless outcomes were overdispersed, in
which case we used a negative binomial
modeling specication.
We used a
zero-inated Poisson model for 1 count out-
come (number of arrests for severe crimes by
age 25 years). We conducted analyses with
M-Plus software with full-information maxi-
mum likelihood estimation techniques,
which provided results representing the full
sample (n = 753) at kindergarten (integrating
over the missing cases). We used Monte Carlo
integration techniques for parameter esti-
mates, because of the categorical nature of the
outcomes. We also specied robust standard
error estimation for all models.
Rates of missing data varied by outcome
(Table 2). Attrition was lower for outcomes
obtained prior to the end of high school.
Missing data rates also were lower for out-
comes obtained through public criminal re-
cords at early adulthood. Accommodation of
missing data through full-information maxi-
mum likelihood procedures assumes that
missing data are conditionally missing at ran-
dom, with all measured covariates in the
analytic model considered.
Table 2 provides the means and standard
deviations for predictors in all analytic models
and for the separate adolescent and adult
outcomes that we examined. Results from
regression models are presented in Table 3
for the estimate on prosocial skills. Odds
ratios (ORs) are provided for results from
logistic regression models; incidence rate
ratios (IRRs) are provided for results from
count-based regression models. We consid-
ered results signicant at P< .05. Appendix B
(available as a supplement to the online
version of this article at
shows statistical signicance results for
all model covariates and details on joint
prediction among all variables; estimates
are indicated in terms of direction of
Our analyses included 4 education and
employment outcomes representing attainment
through age 25 years. Kindergarten prosocial
skills were signicantly and uniquely predictive
of all 4 outcomes: whether participants gradu-
ated from high school on time (OR = 1.54;
95% condence interval [CI] = 1.09, 2.19;
P< .05; Table 3), completed a college degree
(OR = 2.00; 95% CI = 1.07, 3.75; P< .05),
obtained stable employment in young adult-
hood (OR = 1.66; 95% CI = 1.13, 2.43;
P< .01), and were employed full time in young
adulthood (OR = 1.46; 95% CI = 1.02, 2.08;
P< .05). For the 2 outcomes spanning school
ages, we observed a negative association for
number of years of special education services
(IRR = 0.54; 95% CI = 0.44, 0.67; P< .001)
and number of years of repeated grades
through high school (IRR = 0.79; 95%
CI = 0.65, 0.97; P< .05).
Two of the 3 outcomes representing public
assistance in young adulthood were signi-
cantly linked to early social competence. Early
prosocial skills were negatively related to the
likelihood of living in or being on a waiting list
for public housing (OR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.36,
0.85; P< .01; Table 3) and of receiving public
assistance (OR = 0.63; 95% CI = 0.43, 0.91;
P< .05). We found no signicant association
for receiving unemployment compensation in
young adulthood.
Results for justice system outcomes dem-
onstrated consistent patterns across different
ages and variables. Early prosocial skills were
signicantly inversely predictive of any in-
volvement with police before adulthood
(OR = 0.65; 95% CI = 0.45, 0.94; P< .05)
and ever being in a detention facility
(OR = 0.61; 95% CI = 0.40, 0.94; P< .05).
Although juvenilesself-reportofwhether
they had been arrested and or had appeared
in court followed the same pattern, the esti-
mates were not statistically signicant at con-
ventional levels. In young adulthood, early
social competence was signicantly and
uniquely linked to being arrested (OR = 0.60;
95% CI = 0.44, 0.90; P< .05) and appearing
in court (OR = 0.63; 95% CI = 0.43, 0.91;
P< .05). Finally, early social competence sig-
nicantly predicted the number of arrests for
a severe offense by age 25 years (IRR = 0.68;
95% CI = 0.49, 0.94; P< .05), as determined
through public records.
Although early social competence was not
associated with alcohol and drug dependence
diagnoses in early adulthood, our models
showed that it correlated with substance abuse
behavior. We found statistically signicant
associations in separate models of the number
of days of binge drinking in the past month
(IRR = 0.66; 95% CI = 0.44, 0.97; P< .05)
and the number of days marijuana was used
(IRR = 0.55; 95% CI = 0.35, 0.87; P< .01). An
association with regular tobacco use was not
Results were mixed on associations between
early prosocial skills and future mental health
outcomes, although patterns were consistent
with ndings in other domains. Links between
kindergarten prosocial skills and future inter-
nalizing and externalizing problems were
nonsignicant at conventional levels. Finally,
early prosocial skills signicantly predicted
number of years on medication for emotional
or behavioral issues through high school
(OR = 0.54; 95% CI = 0.40, 0.75; P< .001).
e4 |Research and Practice |Peer Reviewed |Jones et al. American Journal of Public Health |Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015
We examined whether early childhood so-
cial competence predicted outcomes measured
up to 2 decades later. We evaluated outcomes
that broadly represented personal well-being,
covering domains of education, employment,
crime, substance use, and mental health. Such
outcomes are markers of personal success or
avoidance of problems. These outcomes are
also economically relevant to both individual
and public resources. Overall, results indicated
statistically signicant and unique associations
between teacher-assessed prosocial skills and
outcomes in all domains examined.
We used a rich database that combined
a long time frame of data collection with
coverage of various domains of human devel-
opment and adult outcomes. Such data pro-
vided the unique opportunity to investigate the
importance of early social-emotional charac-
teristics. An additional strength of these data
was that they involved multiple sources of
information: teachers, parents, self-reports, and
public records.
Our results support previous research that
examined long-term prediction from noncog-
nitive skills, most by notably Moftt et al., who
found that self-control across early childhood
was a signicant predictor of outcomes in
multiple domains of early adult functioning.
Other important research has shown that
noncognitive skills are not as reliable pre-
dictors for some outcomes (e.g., achievement),
as other, more strictly cognitive characteris-
tics, such as academic achievement at school
10, 35
Results across studies likely differ
because of variation in predictors used, qual-
ity of measurement of study constructs, out-
come domains, age at baseline and follow-up,
and other characteristics of the population
Our results demonstrate the predictive
power of teacher-measured prosocial skills in-
dependent of child, family, and contextual
factors that typically predict adult outcomes,
because we controlled for socioeconomic sta-
tus, family risk status, neighborhood quality,
and childrens characteristics (notably behav-
ioral traits and early academic ability). Our
results conrm that these control variables are
indeed predictive of some adult outcomes but
TABLE 2—Model Predictors and Adolescent and Young Adult Outcomes Associated
With Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten: Fast Track Project, United States,
Variable No. Mean (SD)
Model predictors
Gender (female) 753 0.42 (0.49)
Race (African American) 753 0.46 (0.50)
Family socioeconomic status (Hollingshead code) 753 25.65 (12.90)
Mother an adolescent at child’s birth 636 0.16 (0.37)
Neighborhood total score 752 0.03 (0.61)
Life stresses total score 745 1.51 (0.75)
Woodcock–Johnson letter-word identification score 752 12.83 (4.22)
Authority acceptance (teacher-rated behavior) 749 57.34 (11.57)
Child Behavior Checklist externalizing score (parent-rated behavior) 746 57.57 (10.20)
Prosocial–communication skills 686 1.90 (0.97)
Model outcomes
High school graduation on time
620 0.63 (0.48)
College graduation
620 0.11 (0.32)
Currently employed full-time
621 0.49 (0.50)
Stable employment
611 0.32 (0.47)
Years of special education services,
no. 736 2.19 (3.56)
Years of repeated grades,
no. 751 0.66 (0.90)
Public assistance
On waiting list for public housing
615 0.16 (0.37)
Receiving public assistance
603 0.34 (0.47)
Receiving unemployment compensation
603 0.18 (0.38)
Arrests for severe offense,
no. 753 0.12 (0.33)
Ever arrested
516 0.34 (0.47)
Ever arrested
525 0.26 (0.44)
Ever made court appearance
519 0.35 (0.48)
Ever made court appearance
534 0.33 (0.47)
Ever had police contact
562 0.60 (0.49)
Ever stayed in detention facility
526 0.22 (0.42)
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
556 0.26 (0.44)
Drug dependence
550 0.10 (0.30)
Smoked regularly in past month
575 0.38 (0.49)
Days of binge drinking in past month,
no. 602 1.69 (4.65)
Days of marijuana use in past month,
no. 607 3.60 (8.94)
Mental health
Externalizing problems
620 0.21 (0.41)
Internalizing problems
620 0.29 (0.46)
Years on medications,
no. 720 0.93 (2.14)
Note. Participants were recruited from 4 study sites (3 urban, 1 rural): Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; Seattle, WA; and central
At age 25 years.
Through high school.
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
For emotional or behavioral issues.
Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015 |American Journal of Public Health Jones et al. |Peer Reviewed |Research and Practice |e5
that additional, unique variance can be attrib-
uted to social competence at school entrance.
In many cases, social competence was
a stronger predictor (according to statistical
Pvalues) than factors seemingly more directly
aligned with the outcome. This was most
striking in our comparison of associations of
kindergarten teacher---rated aggression and so-
cial competence with later crime outcomes: the
measure of prosocial skills was a consistent
predictor of future crime outcomes, but the
level of aggression observed by the same
teacher was not usually signicantly predictive
after adjustment for other factors (including
a separate measure of aggression from the
primary caretaker). A partial explanation may
be that aggression is a less stable characteristic
among kindergarteners than is the broader
domain of positive social relations. Further-
more, although a relatively small percentage of
children show early aggressive behavior and,
thus, skew the distribution, social competence
is more normally distributed and therefore
may be a better predictor across the spectrum.
The 2 measures shared the same rater and
were moderately correlated (roughly 0.50 in
this sample), as would be expected.
Focusing on a single measurement at an
early age is somewhat risky because charac-
teristics of social competence as recognized by
teachers may manifest in different ways in later
years. We could not determine causal associa-
tions, but our ndings suggest the potential for
such a measure to be used in screening for
intervention at an early stage of development.
Noncognitive factors such as conscientiousness,
self-regulation, motivation, academic ability,
and other attitudes and behaviors in later
childhood years may be more important
markers of long-term outcomes, but they
have not yet been fully developed and thus
have not been efciently assessed in children
at 5 years of age.
Our measure of social competence was
a continuous composite from teacher observa-
tion that combined multiple social-behavioral
scenarios for the child. This measure, although
subject to measurement error, likely represents
childrens social competence relatively well,
because the teacher has been a daily observer
in the classroom setting. For the kindergarten
data, we were not able to clearly distinguish
between social competence and self-regulation,
because the 2 scales were so highly correlated
(and thus were not included in the same
multiple regression). Self-regulation is likely
reected in socially competent behavior but is
multidimensional and may be assessed inde-
pendently through tests of executive function
as children mature and take on more respon-
sibility to progress through school.
Our measure of social competence was
continuous, raising the issue of whether there
may be certain cutoffs (e.g., very low compe-
tence) where this characteristic might be espe-
cially predictive of later outcomes. In addition,
with the available data, we were not able to
assess the validity of the measure for prosocial
skills. We focused on what was measured at
TABLE 3—Logistic Regression and Negative Binomial Regression Results for Associations of
Social-Emotional Functioning in Kindergarten With Adolescent and Young Adult Outcomes:
Fast Track Project, United States, 1991–2010
Outcome OR (95% CI) IRR (95% CI)
High school graduation on time
1.54* (1.09, 2.19)
College graduation
2.00* (1.07, 3.75)
Currently employed full-time
1.46* (1.02, 2.08)
Stable employment
1.66** (1.13, 2.43)
Years of special education services,
no. 0.54*** (0.44, 0.67)
Years of repeated grades,
no. 0.79* (0.65, 0.97)
Public assistance
Living in/on waiting list for public housing
0.55** (0.36, 0.85)
Receiving public assistance
0.63* (0.43, 0.91)
Receiving unemployment compensation
0.89 (0.55, 1.45)
Arrests for severe offense,
no. 0.68* (0.49, 0.94)
Ever arrested
0.67 (0.44, 1.02)
Ever arrested
0.60* (0.40, 0.90)
Ever made court appearance
0.70 (0.47, 1.03)
Ever made court appearance
0.63* (0.43, 0.91)
Ever had police contact
0.65* (0.45, 0.94)
Ever stayed in detention facility
0.61* (0.40, 0.94)
Substance abuse
Alcohol dependence
0.89 (0.59, 1.35)
Drug dependence
0.86 (0.45, 1.65)
Smoked regularly in past month
0.71 (0.48, 1.04)
Days of binge drinking in past month,
no. 0.66* (0.44, 0.97)
Days of marijuana use in past month,
no. 0.55** (0.35, 0.84)
Mental health
Externalizing problems
0.61 (0.36, 1.02)
Internalizing problems
0.70 (0.48, 1.03)
Years on medications,
no. 0.54*** (0.40, 0.75)
Note. CI = confidence interval; IRR = incidence rate ratio; OR = odds ratio. Participants were recruited from 4 study sites (3
urban, 1 rural): Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; Seattle, WA; and central Pennsylvania. Control variables were gender, race (African
American), family socioeconomic status, neighborhood quality, family life stressors, whether mother was an adolescent, early
academic skill, teacher-rated aggression, and parent-rated aggression.
At age 25 years.
Through high school.
Measured after high school (aged 19–20 years).
For emotional or behavioral issues.
*P< 05; **P< .01; ***P< .001.
e6 |Research and Practice |Peer Reviewed |Jones et al. American Journal of Public Health |Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015
school entry and likely fell well short of com-
pletely understanding noncognitive ability and
what it might entail throughout development.
Our goal was to examine what can be
assessed at school entrance when plans for
addressing problems or enhancing skills may
best be initiated. Our results suggest that
perceived early social competence at least
serves as a marker for important long-term
outcomes and at most is instrumental in inu-
encing other developmental factors that col-
lectively affect the life course. Evaluating such
characteristics in children could be important
in planning interventions and curricula to
improve these social competencies. Although
softerskills can be more malleable and, thus,
possibly better candidates for intervention,
they are also less likely to be captured in
a single measurement at a single time than are
variables such as IQ.
Certainly, intervention-
ists are challenged not only by what specic
skills to focus on, but also by what ages to
assess, how to consider the likely interactions
with other traits (including cognitive skills), the
role of contextual factors, and how best to
measure (what sources, whether to combine
measures, etc.).
The growing body of literature that demon-
strates the importance of noncognitive skills in
development should motivate policymakers and
program developers to target efforts to improve
these skills to young children. Much evidence
has shown how effective intervention in pre-
school and the early elementary years can
improve childhood noncognitive skills in a last-
ing way.
Enhancing these skills can have
an impact in multiple areas and therefore has
potential for positively affecting individuals as
well as community public health substantially.
Our study demonstrates the unique predic-
tive nature of early social competence on
important outcomes in late adolescence and
early adulthood. Our results showed that
teacher-rated prosocial skills in kindergarten
were a consistently signicant predictor across
all outcome domains studied; thus, a measure
such as this may be a good candidate for
assessing whether children are at risk for
decits in noncognitive skills at school entry.
We look forward to further research on the
importance of social-emotional competencies
in early development, especially among indi-
viduals more at risk for problems or less pre-
pared to succeed in school or (eventually) the
labor force. Such research ideally will advance
understanding of the appropriate constructs
and measures to focus on, with consideration of
the age and context of the individual. j
About the Authors
Damon E. Jones and Mark Greenberg are with the Bennett
Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State
University, University Park. Max Crowley is with the
Center for Child and Family Policy, Duke University,
Durham, NC.
Correspondence should be sent to Damon Jones, 310
Biobehavioral Health Building, The Pennsylvania State
University. University Park, PA 16802 (e-mail: dej10@ Reprints can be ordered at by
clicking the Reprintslink.
This article was accepted February 10, 2015.
D. E. Jones analyzed the data and was primary writer of
the article. M. Greenberg helped plan data analysis and
write the article. M. Crowley helped with analytic
strategy and writing.
This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation (grant 70895, Damon E. Jones, principal
We are grateful to the Conduct Problems Prevention
Research Group, Karen Bierman, PhD, John Coie, PhD,
Ken Dodge, PhD, John Lochman, PhD, Robert McMahon,
PhD, and Ellen Pinderhughes, PhD, for providing the
data. We also appreciate their feedback on an initial draft
of the article.
Human Participant Protection
The Pennsylvania State University Institutional Review
Board determined that no protocol approval was re-
quired because the study used secondary, de-identied
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... The name morphed over time to a more-simple term, "strengths of the heart." The three attributes that constitute "heart strengths" -variously called by other researchers and clinicians in the USA and globally as "soft skills" or SEL skills, make a real difference in the lives of all successful kids who grow up to be successful adults (Greenberg et al., 2003;Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015;Suldo, Hearon, & Shaunessy-Dedrick, 2018). ...
... Pfeiffer also recognized, as Headmaster of the summer residential programs, that character strengths were critically important in the well-being and adjustment of the many gifted students under his charge (Jones et al., 2015). Peterson and Seligman (2004) provide a helpful classification of character strengths and virtues; Pfeiffer's lab found their taxonomy useful as they began to investigate the 24-different character strengths that their handbook catalogued. ...
... Positive relationships between teachers and learners are central to successful human interaction and learning [85]. Teaching and learning grounded in an understanding of social and emotional skills is critical for the success of all learners, of all ages, in all environments [86,87]. SEL skills can be taught and measured and can support the positive development of students from diverse family backgrounds and geographic contexts [88,13]. ...
... SEL may be more important now than ever because it helps educators, families, and students manage stress, develop resilience, and maintain a sense of optimism during challenging times [87,46]. Jones et al [86] found statistically significant associations between social and emotional skills in kindergarten and key outcomes for young adults years later. Empathy, a SEL skill, has a strong moral effect by impacting learning and development [85]. ...
This study sought to understand the learning benefits, impacts, and opportunities involved with the use of serious games (SG), extended reality (XR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies in the classroom and other educational settings. We conducted a systematic literature review focusing on the potential benefits of utilizing those technologies to build and strengthen prosocial behaviors and cognitive abilities of students and other learners. Results of the study reveal that those modern technologies can be used to improve students’ academic experiences and interactions with their peers while in school. In our rapidly changing global knowledge society, it is clear there is a need to develop and build the capacity of students to work effectively and cooperatively with all people including those from diverse socio-cultural and educational backgrounds. This paper highlights ways in which advanced technologies can support ongoing efforts to enhance students’ knowledge while building more inclusive and emotionally supportive learning environments in school settings.
... Control of these skills is expressed over the course of time in behavior shaped by internal beliefs and values, alongside being able to see the other, as well as in taking responsibility for one's choices and behavior. In a broader context, a link between these skills and successful personal, social and vocational functioning has been found (Durlak, 2015;Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). ...
Conference Paper
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... Research conducted in young children has uncovered that social-emotional skills have important implications for well-being, as they promote adequate problem solving and prosocial behaviors, considered key ingredients of peer acceptance, and positive teacher-child relationship (Downer et al., 2010;Herndon et al., 2013). In addition, long-term positive consequences of improved social adjustment have been associated with children's higher learning engagement and school performance (Denham et al., 2012), as well as decreased risk of conduct problems, substance abuse, or juvenile delinquency (Jones et al., 2015;Moffitt et al., 2011). ...
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Social–emotional skills are essential for preschool children’s mental health and later school success. Considering the variety of school-based interventions aiming to target SEL development, it remains unclear what programs can be considered evidence-based, and what features characterize well-established programs. Hence, the current systematic review aimed (1) to classify classroom-wide SEL programs according to the criteria for evidence-based interventions; (2) to synthesize studies of programs categorized as well-established; and (3) to analyze study-level and overall risk of bias. Interventions were assessed for inclusion, and corresponding studies were systematically searched. A total of 81 studies corresponding to 38 programs were identified, and 24 studies corresponding to four programs classified as well-established were further analyzed. The results indicated that (1) a limited number of classroom-wide interventions (10.5%) meet the criteria for well-established interventions; (2) program implementation is associated with significant improvement in social–emotional competence, reduced risk of emotional, and behavioral problems, as well as with emerging evidence of positive effects on executive functions or school readiness; and (3) outcomes are reported in the context of mainly rigorously conducted experimental research, which could explain the low risk bias ratings for random assignment, baseline equivalence, or attrition. Taken together, these findings suggest that well-established classroom-based interventions could be promoted as examples of best practices which can be systematically implemented within schools. However, more research is needed to identify key ingredients of program effectiveness, as well as to understand the contextual school-related factors, which enable successful transfer from research to large-scale implementation of classroom-wide SEL practices.
... Children's development of social skills during early childhood helps promote their success in school and influences interactions with both peers and adults (Caemmerer & Keith, 2015;DiPrete & Jennings, 2012;Hajovsky et al., 2021b). Early social skills development has been linked to a number of long-term outcomes including high school completion, employment status, and mental health (Jones et al., 2015;Woodward & Fergusson, 2000). Within elementary school, social skills ratings are related to future performance on both classroom assessments and standardized measures of achievement (Anthony et al., 2021;Caemmerer & Keith, 2015;Durlak et al., 2011;Malecki & Elliot, 2002). ...
The purpose of this study was to estimate the longitudinal and reciprocal predictive relations between children's social skills, measured by an adaptation of the frequently used Social Skills Rating Scale, and their standardized academic achievement. A large nationally representative sample of elementary school students were assessed at least annually from kindergarten through fifth grade in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-2011 (n = 7963). Structural equation modeling was used to test a panel model of teacher-rated interpersonal and self-control skills and children's scores on standardized reading, math, and science achievement tests. Reciprocal relations between children's social skills and achievement were supported throughout elementary school, with achievement showing a stronger and consistent pattern of influence on children's subsequent social skills.
This chapter focuses on the interactions between social‐emotional competencies (SECs) and learning in preschool and school‐aged children. It details some programs that enable students to learn SECs at school, through examples of international programs, and details the benefits associated with this type of learning. SECs can be divided into five categories: self‐awareness, self‐management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision‐making. Young children with behavioral problems also tend to have deficits in SECs. In the long‐term, SECs have a positive influence on health and life expectancy, occupational status and salary, and social and personal well‐being. Numerous programs aimed at developing SECs in students from kindergarten through high school have been implemented and evaluated, particularly in the United States. The meta‐analysis by Durlak et al . is based on 213 evaluation studies of this type of program.
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A growing movement suggests that social and emotional learning (SEL) should be integrated into educational experiences in and outside schools. Afterschool programs can be particularly well suited for SEL, and afterschool educators can play an important role in skill development. We interviewed 23 experienced afterschool educators in community-based programs to understand how staff encourage SEL and how program directors support staff in doing so. Findings show that afterschool educators describe integrating SEL into their daily interactions with children by creating and catching teachable moments. Program directors served either as compliance enforcers or partners who supported staff’s autonomy to encourage SEL despite top-down mandates. Findings suggest that educators can develop substantial expertise integrating SEL into their professional work. By recognizing and empowering such expertise, program leaders can support implementation and innovation of SEL practices. Allocating resources toward intentional integration of SEL is an important next step for this work.
Dietary intake can affect the physical, cognitive, and socioemotional development of young children. Few studies have explored the relationships between dietary intake and the cognitive and socioemotional dimensions of school readiness. This study aimed to investigate the longitudinal associations between children’s dietary intake in early childhood, and cognitive and socioemotional school readiness indicators at age 4–5 years using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. A total of 4,253 children were included in the analysis. Multiple linear regression models were built to investigate whether dietary intake (measured by questionnaire at parent interview) at age 2–3 years predicted school readiness indicators of socioemotional and behavioral functioning (measured by parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire [SDQ total score and pro-social scale]), verbal (assessed by Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Third Edition [PPVT-III]) and nonverbal (assessed by “Who Am I” test [WAI] cognitive skills) at age 4–5 years. Furthermore, using cross-sectional data at age 4–5 years, four multiple linear regression models were built to investigate if dietary intake was correlated with the aforementioned school readiness indicators. All models were adjusted for potential confounders. It was found that every one-point increase in child dietary intake score at age 2–3 years led to a decrease in SDQ total score by 0.19 (95% confidence interval [CI] = [0.10, 0.28], and an increase in SDQ pro-social scale, WAI score and PPVT score by 0.07 (95% CI = [0.03, 0.10]), 0.27 (95% CI = [0.13, 0.41]), and 0.20 (95% CI = [0.09, 0.30]), respectively, at age 4–5 years. Children’s dietary intake was also a correlate of their school readiness at age 4–5 years. These results add to the limited evidence base suggesting that children’s early dietary intake may play an important role in later socioemotional and behavioral development, and the development of cognitive skills, which are critical school readiness indicators.
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a global impact on societies, economies, and education. In Spain, one of the countries most affected by the COVID-19 in the initial year, the virus began to spread at the end of February 2020. When the Spanish government declared a state of emergency, the first restrictive measure was the closure of all educational centers on the 14th of March. All schools and universities were closed until September 2020, when students returned to classes with preventative health measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Methods: This study focuses on the observation of children in pre-school education. Specifically, it focuses on studying how preventative health measures that were taken in the pre-schools may have influenced children’s social relationships, basic autonomy, and learning. We used a mixed method in which field notes were taken and observational scores were assigned. Results: The following prevention measures appear to have influenced children’s relationships, autonomy, and learning: bubble groups, handwashing, teachers wearing masks, divided playgrounds so different classes cannot mix, and no toys from home or shared personal objects. Conclusions: The results of the study suggest that new health measures such as the use of masks and social distancing do appear to be affecting the communication and development of pre-school children. Continued research is needed to understand and minimize the potential negative impacts of pandemic measures on children’s development.
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Objective: This randomized controlled trial tested the efficacy of early intervention to prevent adult psychopathology and improve well-being in early-starting conduct-problem children. Method: Kindergarteners (N=9,594) in three cohorts (1991-1993) at 55 schools in four communities were screened for conduct problems, yielding 979 early starters. A total of 891 (91%) consented (51% African American, 47% European American; 69% boys). Children were randomly assigned by school cluster to a 10-year intervention or control. The intervention goal was to develop social competencies in children that would carry them throughout life, through social skills training, parent behavior-management training with home visiting, peer coaching, reading tutoring, and classroom social-emotional curricula. Manualization and supervision ensured program fidelity. Ninety-eight percent participated during grade 1, and 80% continued through grade 10. At age 25, arrest records were reviewed (N=817, 92%), and condition-blinded adults psychiatrically interviewed participants (N=702; 81% of living participants) and a peer (N=535) knowledgeable about the participant. Results: Intent-to-treat logistic regression analyses indicated that 69% of participants in the control arm displayed at least one externalizing, internalizing, or substance abuse psychiatric problem (based on self- or peer interview) at age 25, in contrast with 59% of those assigned to intervention (odds ratio=0.59, CI=0.43-0.81; number needed to treat=8). This pattern also held for self-interviews, peer interviews, scores using an "and" rule for self- and peer reports, and separate tests for externalizing problems, internalizing problems, and substance abuse problems, as well as for each of three cohorts, four sites, male participants, female participants, African Americans, European Americans, moderate-risk, and high-risk subgroups. Intervention participants also received lower severity-weighted violent (standardized estimate=-0.37) and drug (standardized estimate=-0.43) crime conviction scores, lower risky sexual behavior scores (standardized estimate=-0.24), and higher well-being scores (standardized estimate=0.19). Conclusions: This study provides evidence for the efficacy of early intervention in preventing adult psychopathology among high-risk early-starting conduct-problem children.
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High-quality early childhood programs have been shown to have substantial benefits in reducing crime, raising earnings, and promoting education. Much less is known about their benefits for adult health. We report on the long-term health effects of one of the oldest and most heavily cited early childhood interventions with long-term follow-up evaluated by the method of randomization: the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC). Using recently collected biomedical data, we find that disadvantaged children randomly assigned to treatment have significantly lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in their mid-30s. The evidence is especially strong for males. The mean systolic blood pressure among the control males is 143 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), whereas it is only 126 mm Hg among the treated. One in four males in the control group is affected by metabolic syndrome, whereas none in the treatment group are affected. To reach these conclusions, we address several statistical challenges. We use exact permutation tests to account for small sample sizes and conduct a parallel bootstrap confidence interval analysis to confirm the permutation analysis. We adjust inference to account for the multiple hypotheses tested and for nonrandom attrition. Our evidence shows the potential of early life interventions for preventing disease and promoting health.
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Around the world we hear considerable talk about creating world-class schools. Usually the term refers to schools whose students get very high scores on the international comparisons of student achievement such as PISA or TIMSS. The practice of restricting the meaning of exemplary schools to the narrow criterion of achievement scores is usually premised on the view that test scores are closely linked to the provision of a capable labour force and competitive economy. In fact, the measured relationships between test scores and earnings or productivity are modest and explain a relatively small share of the larger link between educational attainment and economic outcomes. What has been omitted from such narrow assessments are the effects that education has on the development of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and capabilities that affect the quality and productivity of the labour force. This article provides evidence on some of these relationships, on the degree to which the non-cognitive effects of schooling contribute to adult performance, and on the evidence that deliberate school interventions can influence non-cognitive outcomes. It concludes with the view that the quest for world-class schools must encompass a range of human development characteristics that extend considerably beyond test scores.
Guide to modeling and interpreting a beta binomial regression