Introduction: Performance-based assessments of social skills have detected impairments in people with severe mental illness and are correlated with functional outcomes in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The most common of these assessments, the Social Skills Performance Assessment (SSPA), has two communication scenarios and items measuring both social competence and appropriateness. As real-world competence and appropriateness appear to have different correlates, we hypothesized that SSPA Items measuring competence and appropriateness would be distinct and have different correlations with other outcomes.
Methods: We aggregated data from 557 people with schizophrenia, 106 with bipolar disorder, and 378 well controls from 4 separate research studies. All participants were assessed with both SSPA scenarios and other performance based and clinician-rated measures. A single expert rated the SSPA interactions for competence and appropriateness while blind to participant diagnoses.
Results: Participants with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia performed more poorly on every item of the SSPA than healthy controls. Items measuring social competence and appropriateness in communication were intercorrelated across scenarios, as were elements of socially competent communication, although the items measuring competence did not correlate substantially with appropriateness. Items assessing social competence, but not social appropriateness, correlated with better cognitive and functional performance and residential and financial independence.
Discussion: Social competence and social appropriateness were distinct elements of performance-based social skills with potential differences in their functional correlates. As both social competence and appropriateness impact functional outcomes, improvement in the measurement and treatment of appropriate communication seems to be an important goal.
Keywords: Cognition; Funcitonal capacity; Social competence; Social functioning.
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