First Friends, a social-emotional preventive intervention program: the mediational role of inhibitory control.




Randall, Katherine Dale

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The purpose of this study was to implement and assess the efficacy of a novel social skills intervention (First Friends; Graham, 2000, 2006) on improving social cognitive skills, social behaviours, and executive functions in an early childhood population of children from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. Early school years are a critical developmental period to intervene to facilitate social competency and reduce problem behaviours. Children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at-risk as many suffer from behavioural problems and begin school without the social maturity and behavioural regulation skills needed to succeed in an academic environment. First Friends is an 8-week preventive intervention designed to promote critical areas of social-emotional development including problem solving, conflict resolution, planning, identification of emotions, empathy, assertiveness, anger management, verbal communication, creativity and cooperation. In addition to examining intervention effects, another goal for this study was to examine the mediational role of improvements in different latent EF components (i.e., working memory, inhibition, set-shifting/mental flexibility) on intervention outcomes. Executive functions (EF) have been linked to social-emotional competence. The First Friends program teaches social skills that are suggested to require EF to learn, as well as implement, during social interactions. The social skills taught and practiced also utilize overlapping brain pathways. Therefore, the First Friends intervention was hypothesized to impact both social-emotional functions and EF, given that 1) EF appears to be required in learning and developing several social and emotional skills, and 2) brain pathways utilized in carrying out these functions overlap. Eighty-seven kindergarten children (41 controls, M = 5.42 years; 46 intervention, M = 5.40 years) from socio-economically disadvantaged areas of the Greater Victoria region in B.C. participated in this study. Children's EF and social-emotional and social-cognitive skills were assessed and their social skills and behaviours were rated by parents, teachers, and observers before and after the intervention. Results provided support for the efficacy of the intervention with children who participated in the intervention demonstrating significantly stronger socio-emotional and social cognitive abilities, more prosocial behaviours, and less negative behaviours compared to a control group. Parent and teacher reports did not reveal significant changes. In addition, significant intervention effects on working memory and set-shifting/mental flexibility were found. Contrary to hypotheses, intervention effects were not revealed for inhibition. In addition, none of the EF latent constructs were found to mediate intervention outcomes. Overall, the First Friends program shows promise with regard to improving both social and executive functioning skills, and continued research and implementation with this program is warranted. These findings highlight the importance of not only assessing for social outcomes, but also examining the development of other cognitive processes that appear to be involved in social development. The results of this study can facilitate understanding of the scope of social intervention outcomes on cognitive processes and guide the selection and implementation of effective prevention programs with early childhood populations in the future.



social skills, kindergarten, intervention, executive functioning