Research Article: Socio-affective and cognitive predictors of social adaptation in vulnerable contexts

Date Published: June 14, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Alejandra Neely-Prado, Gorka Navarrete, David Huepe, Yuka Kotozaki.


People living in vulnerable environments face a harder set of challenges adapting to their context. Nevertheless, an important number of them adapt successfully. However, which cognitive and socio-affective variables are specifically related to these variations in social adaptation in vulnerable contexts has not been fully understood nor directly addressed. Here we evaluated socio-affective variables (anxious attachment style, internal locus of control, self-esteem and stress) and cognitive variables (fluid intelligence, crystallized intelligence, working memory, numeracy, probabilistic reasoning and logical reasoning) to explain variations in social adaptation in a sample of 232 adults living in vulnerable contexts (M = 42.3, SD = 14.9, equal amount of men and women). Our results show that an important amount of variance in social adaptation can be explained by socio-affective variables, principally by self-esteem, while cognitive variables also contributed significantly. As far as we know, this is one of the first steps towards understanding the role of cognitive and socio-affective features on social adaptation. In the long run, this area of research could play an important role on the assignation of resources to ease people’s integration into society. Our data and R analysis scripts can be found at:

Partial Text

Social adaptation has been defined as the capacity to compromise, relate, confront and cooperate with the environment and others, accommodating our mental and behavioral processes [1]. Although defined, this concept has not been frequently addressed as a phenomenon by itself (e.g. [2–4]). Most studies about social adaptation do not use social adaptation scales that measure this ability directly. Instead, they commonly analyze correlations between variables that might be relevant for social adaptation, such as having a job, intellectual functioning, health-related quality of life, among others [2–4]. Although some authors show how social adaptation is negatively affected in psychological and psychiatric disorders [5, 6] and in people who had to overcome problems on initial stages of development [7–10], to the best of our knowledge there is no research on the social adaptation of healthy people living in vulnerable contexts.

Our aim was to understand which psychological aspects help social adaptation in people living in vulnerable contexts. The hypotheses tested were the following: (1) crystallized intelligence, fluid intelligence, working memory, logical reasoning and probabilistic reasoning—as cognitive variables—and self-esteem, locus of control and anxious attachment—as socio-affective variables—correlate significantly with social adaptation; (2) on one hand the socio-affective model, and on the other hand the cognitive model, predict an important amount of social adaptation variance; (3) the socio-affective model included predicts a larger percent of social adaptation variance than the cognitive model included in this study; (4) this cognitive model improves social adaptation prediction beyond that provided by the socio-affective model.

As far as we know, this is the first study showing that cognitive (working memory and fluid intelligence) and socio-affective (self-esteem, stress and locus of control) variables predict social adaptation among adults living in vulnerable contexts. High self-esteem showed the be the strongest predictor of social adaptation, while low levels of stress, internal locus of control and high levels of fluid intelligence and working memory were also critical. Specifically, 31,8% of differences in social adaptation were accounted by stress, internal locus of control, and self-esteem, while 7% depended on working memory and fluid intelligence. Because this line of research has not been deeply addressed, further research is still needed. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that public policies could consider self-esteem, locus of control and perceived stress as relevant areas to intervene, and that cognitive and socio-affective variables should be considered as mechanisms that work together to produce behavior.

Because we used self-reported questionnaires to measure socio-affective variables and social adaptation, we collected people’s self-perception. Inevitably, this could affect the outcomes with well-known bias such as desirability. Also, as people living in vulnerable environments generally have low levels of education, it’s possible some of the participants didn’t fully understand some of the items (like probabilistic reasoning that showed floor effects). Nevertheless, we systematically observed that the majority of correlations and effects were consistent with the hypothesis proposed in this study. Although, to lessen these limitations we used reliability analyses, with generally good results.