Social Competence Predicts Life Outcomes

Social competence
The prestigious American Journal of Public Health published a study in July 2015 that supports the development of social-emotional learning as a public health mandate.

753 kindergarteners from low socioeconomic neighborhoods were rated by their teachers on social competence and followed by Jones et al for 19 years (to approximately age 25) to determine outcomes in education, employment, public assistance, crime, mental health and substance use.

Social competence was measured by such characteristics as “cooperates with peers without prompting,” “is helpful to others,” “very good at understanding feelings,” and “resolves problems on own.”

Even after taking into consideration gender, race, number of parents in the home, socioeconomic status, early childhood aggression, early academic ability and other factors, social competence in kindergarten predicted:

  • graduation from high school on time
  • completion of a college degree
  • stable or full-time employment in young adulthood
  • less use of special education services
  • fewer repeated grades in high school
  • less use of or requests for public housing or public assistance
  • less involvement with police or detainment before adulthood
  • less likelihood of arrest or appearing in court, and fewer arrests for a severe offense in young adulthood
  • fewer days of binge drinking or marijuana use
  • fewer years on medication for emotional or behavioral issues through high school

Social-emotional learning can be effectively facilitated through supportive arts experiences informed by mental health practices because they are experiential, engaging, embodied and, thus, enduring (Petty and Caccioppo).

The arts are also uniquely able to enhance positive emotions, which builds social connection, despite racial and cultural differences (Frederickson).

Shared creative experiences can deepen possibilities for reflection and meaningful dialogue, in an organic process that develops empathy and empowerment (Freire).

The synchrony that occurs in arts experiences (whether singing the same note, doing the same movement, accepting an idea and running with it as in improvisational theater, or simple eye contact) is a form of empathic communication that develops social competence (Kokal).


Frederickson BL.  Are you getting enough positivity in your diet?

Frederickson BL.  How Positive Emotions Heal.  Presentation delivered at the International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health 2012 on16 May 2012, 8:15 AM-9:00 AM.

Freire P.  Education for Critical Consciousness.  London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1974

Jones DE, Greenberg M, and Crowley M.  Early social-emotional functioning and public health: the relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness.  American Journal of Public Health.  Published online ahead of print July 16, 2015: e1-e8.  doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630,

Kokal I, Engel A, Kirschner S, and Keysers C.  Synchronized Drumming Enhances Activity in the Caudate and Facilitates Prosocial Commitment – If the Rhythm Comes Easily. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27272, 2011.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027272,

Petty RE and Caccioppo JT. Communication and Persuasion: Central and Peripheral Routes to Attitude Change. New York: Springer-Verlag,1986.

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