INTERPERSONAL COGNITIVE PROBLEM SOLVING (ICPS)

Principal Investigator: Myrna Shure

Level of Intervention: Universal

Target Population: children age 4-5 (similar program available for older elementary ages)

References: Shure & Spivack (1982, 1988); Shure (1979, 1988, 1997)

Theory (Risk & Protective Factors Targeted):
ICPS is based on a theory of cognitive problem solving ability as a significant predictor of social adjustment and interpersonal competence. ICPS is intended to prevent both internalizing and externalizing disorders by reducing early aggression and antisocial behavior, impulsivity and inhibited behaviors associated with deficiencies in cognitive problem solving ability.

Description of Intervention:
ICPS is a 12 week interpersonal cognitive problem solving program which uses games, didactic discussion and group interaction techniques to teach children communication and problem solving skills and the thought process necessary for good decision-making. The program consists of 8 weeks of daily 20 minute lessons combined with teacher (or parent) training in "problem solving dialoguing," an informal style of communication meant to foster the exercising of newly-learned problem solving skills. The core skills of ICPS are the ability to generate multiple solutions to interpersonal problems, the ability to consider consequences to one decisions or actions, and the ability to consider others’ perspectives as a consideration in decision-making.

Research Subjects:
The study was conducted with 219 low SES, African-American 4 and 5 year olds. The group consisted of 113 treatment subjects (47 boys, 66 girls) and 106 controls (50 boys, 56 girls) in the first year (preschool). Treatment and control subjects were comparable in gender, age, IQ, ICPS test scores and behavioral characteristics. In the second year (kindergarten) 69 of the 113 original treatment subjects were available and were further divided into 39 subjects who received the intervention for a second and 30 who became 2nd year controls. Of the 106 original control subjects, 62 were available in kindergarten.

Research Design:
A quasi-experimental design was used with treatment subjects grouped into 2-year treatment (tt), 1st year treatment – 2nd year control (tc), or 1st year control – 2nd year treatment (ct) and compared to a no-treatment control group (cc). Data were collected pre, post, 6 months, and 1 year, with measures including the Preschool Interpersonal Problem Solving Test (PIPS) to measure alternative solution thinking, the What Happens Next Game (WHNG) to measure a child’s ability to identify multiple consequences to actions, and the Hahnemann Preschool Behavior Scale (HPBS) to measure teacher-rated interpersonal behaviors (impatience, aggression).

Outcomes:
The intervention group experienced a significant improvement in interpersonal cognitive problem solving skills (as measured by the PIPS and WHNG) after the first year of training. Even intervention subjects initially rated as impulsive or inhibited improved significantly over the control group. At the end of the second year of intervention (for the tt group), significant effects again favored the intervention group on the PIPS and WHNG measures, with significantly more intervention children rated as behaviorally adjusted on the teacher rated HPBS. Further analysis indicated a strong mediating linkage between cognitive skill improvement and behavior gains, in which students with higher PIPS scores experienced the greatest behavior gains. In followup analysis, with the exception of the PIPS measure at 6 months, all gains were maintained at 6 months and 1 year. A clear dose-response association was found, with children trained two years improving significantly more than those trained one year, who in turn showed significantly greater improvement (whether trained in preschool or kindergarten) than the no-treatment control group.

Strengths & limitations:
ICPS is a classroom-based universal preventive intervention aimed at providing elementary-age children with structured training in interpersonal cognitive problem solving skills. The program’s goal is to teach children "how" to think in interpersonal situations and to come up with multiple potential solutions. The program focuses primarily on the individual, though it has become a core component of a number of more comprehensive approaches since its pioneering research. The study referenced above used a quasi-experimental design with a non-equivalent control group and non-random assignment, and attrition was relatively high. It is unclear what effect pretest differences or attrition may have had on the outcomes. The sample was fairly homogeneous and no information was provided on measurement of implementation fidelity.

ICPS has been widely replicated and several independent studies have supported the cognitive and behavioral gains of students trained in the curriculum (Aberson, 1987; Callahan, 1992; Weddle & Williams, 1993). In addition, Shure reports findings from an unpublished longitudinal study in which ICPS skills and behavior gains lasted through grade 2, and after disappearing in grade 3, reemerged at the end of grade 4 (Shure, 1997).

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