Craig, A. B., Brown, E., Upright, J., & DeRosier, M. E. (2016). Enhancing children’s social emotional functioning through virtual game-based delivery of social skills training. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 959-968, doi: 10.1007/s10826-015-0274-8
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.