I thought we were good: social cognition, figurative language, and adolescent psychopathology

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Language has been shown to play a critical role in social cognitive reasoning in preschool and school-aged children, but little research has been conducted with adolescents. During adolescence, the ability to understand figurative language becomes increasingly important for social relationships and may affect social adjustment. This study investigated the contribution of structural and figurative language to social cognitive skills in adolescents who present for mental health services and those who do not.


One hundred and thirty-eight adolescents referred to mental health centers (clinic group) and 186 nonreferred adolescents (nonclinic group) aged 12–17 were administered measures of structural and figurative language, working memory, and social cognitive problem solving.


We found that adolescents in the clinic group demonstrated less mature social problem solving overall, but particularly with respect to anticipating and overcoming potential obstacles and conflict resolution compared with the nonclinic group. In addition, results demonstrated that age, working memory, and structural and figurative language predicted social cognitive maturity in the clinic group, but only structural language was a predictor in the nonclinic group.


Social problem solving may be particularly difficult for adolescents referred for mental health services and places higher demands on their cognitive and language skills compared with adolescents who have never been referred for mental health services.

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