Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Psychology


Students of color and students with disabilities, especially those with Emotional Disturbance (ED), are at increased risk for exclusionary discipline and juvenile justice involvement (Skiba, Arredondo & Williams, 2014). Within exclusionary discipline research, students' behaviors and discipline referrals are examined, but students' maladaptive thinking patterns or cognitive distortions remain largely unexplored. Within juvenile justice research, however, the cognitive distortions of incarcerated youth have been widely studied. The overarching hypothesis for the current study was that students' self-serving cognitive distortions would be related to their externalizing behaviors, as measured by office discipline referrals (ODRs), and these ODRs would be related to out-of-school suspensions. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, 77 students with ED attending a therapeutic high school completed a measure of self-serving cognitive distortions, the How I Think (HIT) Questionnaire. Throughout the school year, data on participants' ODRs and suspensions were collected. The effects of student demographic variables such as gender and race/ethnicity were explored. In the current study, male participants reported significantly higher levels of cognitive distortions than female participants, but male participants were not more likely than female participants to receive ODRs or suspensions. No significant differences on cognitive distortion scales by race/ethnicity were found. However, race/ethnicity was a significant predictor of referrals for defiance, disrespect, disruption, and inappropriate language with Black participants being significantly more likely than White participants to receive these subjective referrals. Participants who received at least one of these subjective referrals were significantly more likely to be suspended. Additionally, participants with higher levels of cognitive distortions were significantly more likely to receive a bullying/harassment referral, and participants who received at least one bullying/harassment referral were significantly more likely to be suspended. Few studies have investigated the relationship between self-serving cognitive distortions and bullying. Implications for school psychology practice, including interventions to address cognitive distortions and implicit bias are discussed.

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Psychology Commons