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C 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 48(10), 2011


View this article online at wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pits

DOI: 10.1002/pits.20604

GENDER DIFFERENCES IN POSITIVE SOCIALEMOTIONAL FUNCTIONING


NATALIE ROMER, N. KATHRYN RAVITCH, KARALYN TOM, AND KENNETH W. MERRELL

University of Oregon
KATHERINE L. WESLEY

Tigard-Tualatin School District, Oregon


We investigated gender differences of children and adolescents on positive social and emotional
competencies using a new strength-based measure of positive socialemotional attributes and
resiliencethe SocialEmotional Assets and Resilience Scales (SEARS) cross-informant system.
Caregivers, teachers, and students in grades kindergarten through 12 from schools across several
U.S. states completed SEARS rating scales and self-report forms. Females were consistently rated
as having significantly higher total scores on all versions of the SEARS assessment system (p <
.01), indicating consistent perceptions of females higher levels of socialemotional competencies
by all raters. These differences were not impacted by the grade students were in or the gender of
C
the parent or teacher rater. Implications of these findings and future directions are discussed. 
2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

A growing body of research indicates that child protective factors associated with resiliency
better predict social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes than traditional deficit or risk factors alone
(Garmezy, 1993; Kirby & Fraser, 1997). To this end, the increasing acceptability of a strength-based
approach to mental health assessment and intervention with children has underscored the need for
more standardized strength-based assessment measures (Walrath, Mandell, Holden, & Santiago,
2004). Unfortunately, relatively few standardized strength-based assessments exist, and fewer still
include substantial psychometric and normative data, including information about gender differences
on factors associated with resilience.
Behavior rating scales of children and adolescents have predominantly focused on determining
areas of difficulties, deficits, and pathology (Albrecht & Braaten, 2008). As such, research on
trends in gender differences has most often been based on ratings of internalizing and externalizing
problem symptoms. Assessments of internalizing symptoms such as depression and anxiety reveal
that incidences of childhood depression are approximately equal in males and females; however,
during adolescence, females exhibit these symptoms at a much higher rate than males. The revised
fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that the prevalence
of a major depressive disorder is 5% to 9% for females, compared with 2% to 3% for males
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In terms of externalizing behavioral disorders, such as
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and
antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), gender differences have been well established, with boys
exceeding girls in rates of externalizing problems throughout adolescence (e.g., Reid et al., 2000).
ADHD, for example, shows a 2.5:1 male-to-female ratio of childhood onset (Nigg & Nikolas, 2008),
and males are also more than three times more likely to receive a diagnosis of ASPD than females
(Hiatt & Dishion, 2008). Such differences in externalizing behaviors reported in males and females
have resulted in the creation of separate norm tables for males and females in behavioral rating
scales, such as the Behavior Assessment System for Children (2nd ed.; Reynolds & Kamphaus,
2004) and the rating scales of the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (Achenbach
& Rescorla, 2001).

Katherine L. Wesley is now at Student Services, Tigard-Tualatin School District. Last names of the second and
third authors are listed alphabetically, reflecting their equal contributions to this article.
Correspondence to: Natalie Romer, University of Oregon, Special Education and Clinical Sciences, 5208
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-5208. E-mail: endrulat@uoregon.edu

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There is some evidence to support gender differences in ratings of mothers and fathers
(e.g., Webster-Stratton, 1996); yet, overall findings seem to suggest that mothers and fathers
rate their children similarly (Duhig, Renk, Epstein, & Phares, 2000). Webster-Stratton (1996)
investigated parent and teacher reports on behavior of boys and girls and found that mothers
and teachers reported higher levels of externalizing problem behaviors, such as physical aggression and distractibility in boys; however, fathers did not identify these behaviors as being as
problematic. Conversely, fathers reported higher levels of concern regarding girls internalizing
behaviors, whereas mothers and teachers did not rate these behaviors as problematic. In contrast, a study by Walker and Bracken (1998) examined ratings by mothers and fathers of children aged 4 to 5 years and did not find meaningful differences between parents according to
gender.
Gender differences have also been found in self-report assessments of internalizing symptoms. Merrell and Dobmeyer (1996) investigated gender differences on the Internalizing Symptoms Scale for Children (Merrell & Walters, 1996) and found that females had significantly
higher self-report ratings of internalizing symptoms than males. The three items that showed
the largest difference between males and females referred to expressions of sadness and fear;
these authors hypothesized that stereotypic socialization contributed to gender differences on these
items.
Within the school context, teachers are usually the primary source of information regarding
student behavior and problem identification. The process of mental health screening and support
in schools is frequently dependent on teacher referrals for social and behavioral concerns, and
gender has been identified as a variable that may significantly impact teacher referrals. In a study
of nationally representative, randomly selected schools and districts, Foster et al. (2005) found that
school personnel rated anxiety and adjustment problems as top reasons for female students to be
referred for mental health services, whereas aggression or disruptive behavior and neurological
disorders were top reasons for male students to be referred for mental health services. Overall,
research indicates that boys are most often referred for academic and behavioral concerns and are
referred far more frequently than girls, who are most often referred for social concerns (Harris, Gray,
Rees-McGee, Carroll, & Zaremba, 1987).
Though gender differences have clearly been documented with regard to referral rates and
measures of specific types of disorders, less is known about gender differences associated with
positive emotions or feelings of well-being. Recent studies have demonstrated that measures of life
satisfaction and subjective well-being may be a unique indicator of mental health, suggesting that
it is important to examine positive indicators of functioning in addition to traditional indicators of
psychopathology (Huebner & Gilman, 2004; Suldo & Shaffer, 2008). Similarly, the World Health
Organization (as cited in Ryff & Singer, 1998) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental
and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (p. 28). A pathologybased approach to mental health intervention also results in reactionary interventions rather than
the prevention of problems and the promotion of mental wellness (Cowen, 1994). Recognizing the
limitations of current pathology measures has resulted in a movement toward assessments measuring
individuals strengths.
Assessments that focus on measuring self-concept, self-esteem, and other factors associated
with an individuals social, emotional, and academic strengths and assets may provide more specific
information related to behavior outcomes than measures of internalizing or externalizing behavior
problems. Strength-based assessment examines environmental variables, such as the capacity within
the child and the resources that he or she already possesses. This information can be used to build

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interventions as well as develop an overall psychological and ecological profile of a child. Epstein
and Sharma (1998) defined strength-based assessment as:
The measurement of those emotional and behavioral skills, competencies, and characteristics that create
a sense of personal accomplishment; contribute to satisfying relationships with family members, peers,
and adults; enhance ones ability to deal with adversity and stress; and promote ones personal, social,
and academic development.

An accumulation of protective factors has been associated with resilience among high-risk youth
(Garmezy, 1993). Gender differences have been identified in both individual and environmental
variables related to resilience (Hartman, Turner, Daigle, Exum, & Cullen, 2009). For example,
Kort-Butler reported that among individual protective factors, self-esteem has been shown to be a
significant factor in protecting girls from delinquency, but not boys (as cited in Hartman et al., 2009).
Environmental variables, such as religiosity and a positive school environment, were also found to
significantly increase resilience among girls (Hartman et al., 2009), and girls have also been rated
higher in self-regulatory skills (e.g., Raffaelli, Crocket, & Shen, 2005).
Studies of gender differences in constructs such as self-esteem and self-concept have produced
mixed results. It is generally believed that gender differences across various dimensions of selfconcept (e.g., academic competence) become more apparent over time, and that there is a decline
in the self-esteem and self-confidence of girls as they move from childhood into early adolescence
(Wilgenbusch & Merrell, 1999). However, in their meta-analysis Wilgenbusch and Merrell (1999)
found that gender differences varied depending on the dimensions of self-concept that were being
measured, and many of these differences were actually insignificant or very small. Furthermore, this
meta-analysis did not support the popular notion that girls self-esteem plummets as they move into
the middle and high school years.
Epstein, Ryser, and Pearson (2002) examined gender differences on the Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale (BERS), a multi-rater strength-based assessment system that measures aspects
of interpersonal, family, school, and affective strength (Epstein & Sharma, 1998). The authors found
that when rating students, parents and school professionals rated females as having more strengths, as
indicated by higher ratings across each factor and overall score on the BERS. However, parents and
professionals (teachers, counselors, etc.) rated children who had emotional and behavioral disorders
with similar levels of overall strengths regardless of gender.
Gilman and Huebner (2006) found comparable results when they investigated adolescent selfreport of life satisfaction on the Student Life Satisfaction Scale (Huebner, 1991). The researchers
divided the students into three satisfaction groupshigh, average, and lowand analyzed whether
there was a significant difference in scores based on gender within each satisfaction group. The
results of the analysis revealed that males and females reported equivalent levels of life satisfaction
within each satisfaction group.
A meta-analysis by Fabes and Eisenberg (1998) examined gender differences in displays of
prosocial behaviors, as measured by self-report, other-report (i.e., teacher, parent, and peers), and
observation, and found that females exhibited higher ratings of prosocial behavior than males. This
difference was greater when measured with self-reports and other-reports than with observations of
children in natural and experimental settings.
The varied results on gender differences across strength-based assessments indicate that further
studies are necessary to examine whether meaningful gender differences exist that would provide
unique information with which to design interventions. Research in school-based mental health
service delivery indicates a need for prevention-focused programs that foster resilience and positive
socialemotional adjustment in children and adolescents. Previous studies have shown that certain
risk and protective factors may be more or less influenced by gender (Friedrich, Raffaelle Mendez,
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& Mihalas, 2010). Thus, prevention programs must account for these gender differences to achieve
desired results.
Additional research is needed to identify the different factors that lead to development of risk and
resilience in boys and girls, as well as elements that foster success in prevention-focused programs.
For example, Blake, Amaro, Schwartz, and Flinchbaugh (2001) and Kumpfer, Smith, and Summerhayes (2008) found common factors that contributed to success in substance abuse prevention
programs for adolescent girls that differed from the factors that contributed to success for boys. Social
connectedness was one construct identified as being more influential for girls, and therefore, programs
that successfully decreased substance abuse focused on skills that targeted social connectedness,
such as effective communication and positive inclusion in school (Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, 2002). Elements that contributed to the effectiveness of substance
abuse programs for boys included peer activities and other interactive modes of service delivery.
Research also indicates that different protective and risk factors may mediate the likelihood of
school success or delinquency (Resnick, Ireland, & Borowsky, 2004). For example, a longitudinal
study of youth identified as high risk found that indicators of school attachment, such as relationships
with teachers and academic achievement, were stronger protective factors against delinquency for
girls than for boys (Crosnoe, Erickson, & Dornbusch, 2002).
Male and female students rely on different protective factors to remain resilient (Hartman et al.,
2009). Most school psychologists have some training in the role gender can play in psychopathology;
however, there is less knowledge and training about differences in protective factors. Additionally,
there is a gap in the empirical research on how to best program for boys and girls when providing
school-based mental health services. To ensure that the needs of both boys and girls are being met,
practitioners need to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of mental health services. The process of
evaluation should contain multiple measures of mental health outcomes, including enhancement of
protective factors and the reduction of risk factors (Friedrich et al., 2010). By using strength-based
assessment for early identification, intervention selection, and progress monitoring, practitioners
would be able to accurately measure protective factors and focus their efforts on increasing strengths
associated with positive student outcomes.
Comprehensive theoretical frameworks are needed to explain patterns of risk and protective
factors that may vary by gender and how knowledge of such gender differences can be used to inform
how interventions are developed (Friedrich et al., 2010). The exploration of gender differences from
a complete mental health perspective may paint a more complete picture of how girls and boys
function. This would involve conceptualizing gender differences based on pathological symptoms,
as well as indicators of general well-being and resilience, and requires the addition of an ecological
assessment of childrens personal assets, strengths, and resources.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether gender differences existed among factors
related to socialemotional competence and resilience, using a new strength-based assessment
system, the Social Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales (SEARS; Merrell, 2011). The SEARS
is a cross-informant socialemotional assessment that takes into account problem-solving skills,
interpersonal skills, and the ability to make and maintain friendships, cope with adversity, and be
optimistic when faced with adversity. In addition to identifying knowledge and skills associated
with resilience, the SEARS could serve as an instrument for progress monitoring and universal
socialemotional screening (Merrell, Cohn, & Tom, 2011). Five primary research questions were
addressed in the current study:
1. How do male and female children and adolescents compare on self-ratings of social emotional strengths?
2. How do males and females compare on teacher ratings of socialemotional strengths?
3. How do males and females compare on parent ratings of socialemotional strengths?
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4. Is there an effect of grade level on socialemotional strengths for female and male students?
5. Is there an effect of rater gender on socialemotional strengths for female and male students?
M ETHOD

Participants
The sample for this study included parent, teacher, and student participants who completed
assessment forms as part of the SEARS norming project. Schools across the United States, including
schools in Massachusetts, Iowa, Georgia, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, California, North Carolina, and
Hawaii, participated in the project. Disability categories represented in the SEARS-P (for parents)
and SEARS-T (for teachers) scales were selected to reflect the U.S. census data. According to parent
and teacher report, students with disabilities composed roughly 11.6% to 13.0% of the final sample.
The top three disability categories represented in the SEARS-T were specific learning disability
(47.1%), speech and language disorder (18.3%), and mental retardation (9.2%), with 9.2% in the
other health impairment category. Similarly, the top three disability categories represented in the
SEARS-P were specific learning disability (44.2%), speech and language disorder (18.4%), and other
health impairment (14.3%). Descriptive information on the final sample selected to reflect appropriate
diversity and representation of U.S. census data is provided in Table 1. The respective SEARS forms
were completed by parents (SEARS-P), teachers (SEARS-T), adolescent-aged students (SEARS-A),
and children in grades 3 to 6 (SEARS-C).
Measure
The SEARS (Merrell, 2011) is a strength-based, multi-informant assessment system designed
to measure positive socialemotional attributes and skills, such as social competence, self-regulation,
problem solving, and social and emotional knowledge of children and adolescents in grades

Table 1
Characteristics of the Sample as a Percentage
Characteristic
Gender
Female
Male
Rater Gender
Female
Male
Ethnicity
White/Caucasian
Hispanic/Latino
Black/African American
Asian/Pacific Islander
American Indian/Native American
Multiracial (2+)
Other
Identified Disability
Includes

SEARS-P
(n = 1,204)

SEARS-T
(n = 1,400)

SEARS-A
(n = 1,727)

SEARS-C
(n = 1,224

47.3
52.7

50.9
49.1

50.1
49.9

49.2
50.8

76.0
24.0

73.3
26.7

55.2
9.0
10.5
14.0
0.3
10.0
0.8
13.0

55.0
18.1
15.1
7.1
0.2
3.2
1.4
11.6

55.1
17.9
15.0
7.0
0.8
2.7
1.5
n/a

55.0
12.8
15.0
7.0
1.3
6.9
2.1
n/a

only biological mothers and fathers.

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kindergarten to 12 (K-12). The SEARS rating system includes four different rating scales: a teacher
report (SEARS-T), for rating students in grades K-12; a parent report, for rating children and adolescents ages 5 to 18 years (SEARS-P); a child self-report, for students in grades 3 to 6 (SEARS-C);
and an adolescent self-report (SEARS-A), appropriate for students in grades 7 to 12. The SEARS
scales range from 35 to 41 items in length and use a categorical, 4-point rating scale. Respondents
are asked the degree to which an item is true for the student who is being rated (Never, Sometimes,
Often, Always/Almost Always), with raw score values ranging from 0 to 3.
The SEARS-P, SEARS-T, and SEARS-A consist of a total score and subscale scores that
measure aspects of self-regulation, social competence, empathy, and responsibility. Items falling
into the Self-Regulation subscale measure a students ability to manage his or her emotions and
behavior. Items falling into the Social Competence subscale measure characteristics relating to
interpersonal and peer relationships. The Empathy subscale measures a students ability to take into
account the perspective of others, and the Responsibility subscale measures the ability for students
to make sensible decisions. The SEARS-C, unlike the other scales, has a unitary factor structure
and, as such, provides a single total score.
SEARS assessments have strong internal consistency, with alpha coefficients ranging from .90
to .98 for total scores and .80 to .95 for subscale scores across the different versions of the scales. The
SEARS rating forms have been shown to have good testretest reliability, with SEARS-T coefficients
ranging from .84 to .94 across subscales and total scores over a 2-week testretest period; SEARS-A
retest coefficients ranging from .63 to .89 over a 6-week period, with data collected in 2-week retest
intervals; and SEARS-C coefficients ranging from .73 to .81 across total scores (Romer & Merrell,
2011).
Convergent validity studies with SEARS and other measures have shown positive correlations
with test scores on other widely used and nationally standardized assessments intended to measure
similar constructs to the SEARS. The SEARS-P revealed low to high correlations with the Social
Skills Rating Scale (SSRS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990) total score and subscales scores (r = .22 to
.75) and the Home and Community Social Behavior Scales (Merrell & Caldarella, 2002) Social
Competence Scale (r = .87 and .80) across both an elementary and high school subsample (Merrell,
Felver-Gant, & Tom, 2010). The SEARS-T evidenced moderate to high correlations with the SSRS
subscales and total score (r = .39 to .82), as well as to the Peer Relations subscale of the School
Social Behavior Scales (Merrell, 2002) total subscale score (r = .76 to .90; Merrell et al., 2011).
The SEARS-A demonstrated moderate to high correlations with the SSRS total and subscale scores
(r = .31 to .69) and Student Life Satisfaction Scale (Huebner, 1991) total score (r = .30 to .48).
The SEARS-C also demonstrated moderate to high convergent evidence with the SSRS total and
subscale scores (r = .62 to .78) and the Internalizing Symptoms Scales for Children (Merrell &
Walters, 1998) Positive Affect score (r = .53).
Procedure
Data were collected over a 2-year period as part of the SEARS national norming project. Schools
were invited to participate in the project through direct recruitment by the principal investigator
and members of the research team, through a website, and through solicitation at guest lectures and
trainings. After schools volunteered to participate, informed consent was obtained from participating
parents, teachers, and students through a process approved by the Human Subjects Internal Review
Board of the sponsoring institution. Schools were provided directions and all the necessary materials
to administer the forms. On completion, parents, teachers, and students received small forms of
compensation, such as gift cards or copies of professional educational materials for their participation
in this project.
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R ESULTS

We used SPSS 17.0 to conduct independent t tests and two-way between subjects analysis of
variance tests. For the purpose of generalization and to capture an adequate representation of diverse
ethnic and racial groups, we ran all of our analyses using the final data sets from the SEARS norming
project, which are reflective of general U.S. census data. Because the research questions focused on
differences between males and females, cases that did not identify the gender of the rated student
were excluded, resulting in 1 missing case on the SEARS-P, 22 missing cases on the SEARS-T, 6
missing cases on the SEARS-A, and 4 missing cases on the SEARS-C.
Gender Differences
To determine whether there was a difference between reported socialemotional strengths
between male and female students, we conducted independent t tests comparing ratings of female
and male students by parents, teachers, and students themselves.
Regardless of the rater, female students mean scores were higher than male students total and
subscale scores. This difference was significant for all total score comparisons (p < .01), but not
for every subscale (see Tables 25). Although adolescent females scores were higher on both the
Self-Regulation and Social Competence subscales, these differences were not significant (p > .20).
Given the large size of the sample (which can inflate the chance of statistically significant
findings because of increased power), we also calculated effect size estimates using Cohens d
procedure (Cohen, 1992). This procedure compares mean score differences between groups as a
proportion of the standard deviation from the normal curve (i.e., an effect size of 1.0 would indicate
approximately one standard deviation difference in the distributions of the two groups). These
analyses indicated that the effect for the difference between female and male scores on SEARS
total and subscale scores were generally small and, in some cases, not meaningful (i.e., SEARS-P
Self-Regulation/Responsibility and Social Competence, and SEARS-A Responsibility and Social
Competence). For the SEARS-A, there was a medium effect size for how adolescent female students
rated themselves compared to male students on the Empathy subscale.
Rater and Gender Interactions
To determine whether there was an effect of rater gender on SEARS-P and SEARS-T scores
(provided by parent and teacher raters, respectively) for male and female students, we conducted a

Table 2
Gender Differences on SEARS-P Rating Scale Scores Based on Independent t Tests
SEARS-P

Gender (n)

Self-Regulation/
Responsibility
Social
Competence
Empathy
Total Score

Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male

ES = Effect size.
p .01.
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M (SD)

t (1201)

ES

40.36 (12.01)
38.22 (11.96)
21.22 (5.70)
20.35 (5.65)
15.37 (3.81)
13.90 (4.07)
76.95 (19.06)
72.47 (19.14)

3.09

0.16

2.64

0.14

6.46

0.40
(small)
0.23
(small)

4.06

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Table 3
Gender Differences on SEARS-T Rating Scale Scores Based on Independent t Tests
SEARS-T

Gender (n)

Responsibility

Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male

Social
Competence
Self-Regulation
Empathy
Total Score

M (SD)

t(1376)

ES

21.02 (6.98)
18.36 (7.17)
21.48 (8.22)
19.88 (8.40)
21.41 (9.00)
18.94 (8.84)
11.22 (4.06)
9.37 (4.14)
75.13 (24.89)
66.56 (25.32)

6.97

0.40
(small)
0.21
(small)
0.29
(small)
0.23
(small)
0.36
(small)

3.58
5.14
8.39
6.34

ES = Effect size.
p .01.

Table 4
Gender Differences on SEARS-A Rating Scale Scores Based on Independent t Tests
SEARS-A

Gender (n)

Self-regulation

Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male
Female
Male

Social
Competence
Empathy
Responsibility
Total Score

M (SD)

t(1719)

13.50 (4.61)
13.45 (4.64)
19.70 (5.34)
19.39 (5.71)
24.54 (4.93)
20.66 (5.96)
12.15 (3.36)
11.36 (3.56)
69.91 (14.18)
64.87 (16.54)

0.22

ES

1.17
14.71
4.75
6.78

0.70
(medium)
0.23
(small)
0.33
(small)

ES = Effect size.
p .01.

Table 5
Gender Differences on SEARS-C Rating Scale Scores Based on Independent t Tests
SEARS-C

Gender (n)

Total score

Female
Male

M (SD)

t(1218)

ES

69.92 (15.52)
65.04 (16.76)

5.27

0.30
(small)

ES = Effect size.
p .01.

two-way between-subjects analysis of variance on total SEARS scores. On the SEARS-P, the rater
gender (i.e., mother or father) by student gender interaction was not significant, F (1, 1038) = 0.57,
p > .05; the main effect for rater gender was not significant, F (1, 1038) = 0.72, p > .05; and the
main effect for student gender was significant, F (1, 1038) = 7.13, p < .01. On the teacher version
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of the SEARS, the rater gender by student gender interaction was not significant, F (1, 1347) =
0.03, p > .05, and the main effect for rater gender was not significant, F (1, 1347) = 0.60, p > .05;
however, the main effect for student gender was significant, F (1, 1347) = 29.35, p < .01. These
results reveal that the gender of the rater did not have an effect on the scores of the female and male
students who were being rated.
Grade Level and Gender Interactions
To evaluate the effect of gender and grade on total SEARS scores, we conducted a two-way
between-subjects analysis of variance for each of the respective scales and found no significant
grade-by-gender interactions (p > .05).
Results of the two-way between subjects analysis of variance tests were consistent with the
findings from the independent t-tests and revealed that the gender of the student played a greater
role in differences between total scores and this difference did not depend upon the grade level of
the student. In addition, the gender of the rater did not have an effect on the scores of the female and
male students being rated.
D ISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to investigate differences between female and male social
emotional assets and skills associated with resiliency using a strength-based assessment system. Our
results indicate that girls obtained significantly higher total scores on all versions of the SEARS
assessment system based on parent and teacher ratings, as well as student self-reports. Parents,
teachers, and students all perceived girls as demonstrating more social and emotional strengths and
knowledge of skills, such as empathy and problem solving. These perceptions of gender differences
were not impacted by the grade that students were in or the gender of the parent or teacher rating
the student.
Although our results were quite consistent in showing statistically significant gender differences across measures, the difference between girls and boys social and emotional strengths was
generally small and therefore should be interpreted judiciously. These findings appear consistent
with previous studies on gender differences that utilized direct measures of childrens self-regulation
ability (e.g., Duckworth & Seligman, 2006; Matthews, Ponitz, & Morrison, 2009; Silverman, 2003).
For example, Matthews et al. (2009) explored gender differences in self-regulation and found that
girls demonstrated higher levels of self-regulation when measured through objective direct measures
and teacher report of self-regulation. Therefore, although gender differences found in our study
were small, these findings are interesting and valuable, especially in light of the large research
base suggesting that gender differences exist in the prevalence and expression of psychopathology
of various disorders and of recent discussions of gender-informed mental-health service delivery
in schools (Friedrich et al., 2010). As schools develop mental-health service-delivery models and
promote psychological wellness, an understanding of gender differences in social and emotional
strengths and assets related to resilience will be important for both assessment and intervention
planning purposes.
An accumulation of protective factors has been shown to be related to resilience among children (Masten, Best, & Garmezy, 1990), and the assessment of such strengths, skills, and assets
provides valuable information for the purpose of intervention planning (Jimerson, Sharkey, Nyberg, & Furlong, 2004). Strength-based assessment also shows promise as an important means for
evaluating students and programs as part of prevention-focused, tiered, service-delivery models
(Merrell & Gueldner, 2010). For example, socialemotional learning (SEL) is a very broad term
that encompasses techniques and programs used to teach social and emotional competencies linked
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to well-being and positive school adjustment. SEL programs focus on several areas of competency,
including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, and relationship skills (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2003). Ideally, these
skills are taught to all students and reinforced throughout the school, thereby increasing the likelihood that all boys and girls develop the social and emotional competencies linked to resilience
and evaluated by strength-based measures. More research is needed, however, to establish the treatment utility of strength-based assessments and to determine how a better understanding of gender
differences may influence intervention designs and ultimately outcomes.
In regard to assessment, practitioners might benefit from information about whether to use
separate gender specific-norms or combined norms when using strength-based assessments. The
strength-based measure used in this study, the SEARS, does not warrant separate norms for males
and females, as the differences between ratings of males and females were quite small. In contrast,
many deficit-based measures require separate norms, since gender differences are more salient and
the use of combined norms could lead to possible misinterpretations of results. For example, a boy
rated on behaviors related to an externalizing behavior problem may score in a clinically significant
range when using combined norms, but not when compared to other boys. In practice, evaluators
must be judicious in their review of any standardized test, including reviewing how scores differ
based on gender.
Gender differences should also be accounted for when developing interventions. In particular,
gender-specific strengths and resources may inform how interventions are developed and modified.
Finally, gender may also impact students perceptions of the acceptability and intrusiveness of an
intervention (e.g., Eckert, Miller, Riley-Tillman, & DuPaul, 2006).
Social and emotional skills have been linked not only to mental wellness and resilience, but to
positive, long-term academic outcomes (Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, & Walberg, 2004), and these
results raise interesting questions about the socialization and social and emotional development of
boys and girls in relation to academic outcomes. Gender differences in some social and emotional
strengths may provide insight into why girls earn higher grades than boys do across subject areas and
grade levels. Yet, despite their academic success, girls tend to experience more internalizing distress
(Pomerantz, Altermatt, & Saxon, 2002). Conversely, boys appear to demonstrate fewer social and
emotional skills and exhibit more behavior problems that interfere with learning.
The trends observed in K-12 schooling are also mirrored in current college populations, with
more female students graduating from college than male students. Furthermore, longitudinal data
suggest that these differences can be at least partially explained by behavioral and developmental
differences between boys and girls (Goldin, Katz, & Kuziemko, 2006). More research is needed
to determine to what extent, if any, gender differences in social and emotional competence impact
learning, persistence in academic settings, and other long-term positive outcomes (e.g., interpersonal
skills, general well-being, career development) and how such differences might influence assessment
and intervention practices.
We found no significant interactions between the gender of the rater (for both parents and
teachers) and the gender of the student. Whether parents or teachers are male or female does not
appear to impact how they rate boys and girls on their social and emotional skills and strengths.
Correlations between mother and father ratings on the SEARS-P are strong (.72 for the total score)
and similar to parental agreement found on other strength-based measures (Synhorst, Buckley, Reid,
Epstein, & Ryser, 2005). Overall, parent ratings on measures of internalizing problems from other
studies appear to correspond moderately and are even stronger on measures of externalizing problems
(Duhig et al., 2000).
More research aimed at cross-informant agreement and how male and female raters rate female
and male students would be valuable, because generally more mothers and female teachers are
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rating students than fathers and male teachers. If trends are identified, this will also be important
information as evaluators consider the norming sample used to develop scales and interpret their
results. Currently, the use of combined versus gender-specific norms varies across different rating
scales. This type of research on strength-based measures will also provide further insight into how
mothers and fathers perceive and rate childrens strengths and assets and whether these ratings are
more consistent between raters than perceptions of problem behaviors.
There were several limitations to this study. This project did not involve true random selection,
but we obtained a large sample secured through ongoing recruitment efforts and data collection for the
development and standardization of the SEARS rating system. However, because of the large sample
size and because we adjusted the sample to match ethnic distributions based on 2000 census data, the
lack of true experimental randomized selection in the sample appears to be less of an issue. Finally,
although results revealed significant differences between male and female students total scores for
all versions of the SEARS and almost all subscale scores of the respective versions, this was not the
case for the SEARS-A. On the adolescent version of the SEARS (for grades 712), significant gender
differences were found for the total score and the Empathy and Responsibility subscales, but not the
Self-Regulation and Social Competence subscales. This finding may indicate that the self-reporting
ability of youths becomes more nuanced as they enter the adolescent developmental period.
The results of this study provide information about gender differences from a strength-based
perspective. Previous research has identified gender differences associated with internalizing and
externalizing problems, and our findings provide further support that gender differences also exist
when assessing childrens individual strengths. Future research will determine how gender impacts
childrens functioning in regard to both their strengths as well as their deficits. Aligned with mental
health promotion efforts, additional research is needed to determine how gender impacts childrens
functioning in regard to their strengths and how gender differences impact the distinct contributions
of mental wellness and psychopathology to mental health.
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