Peer reinforcement of behavior in an institution for delinquent girls Public Deposited


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  • The major purpose of this study was to compare the occurrence of "delinquent" and "non-delinquent" responses and their contingent social reinforcements during informal cottage peer interaction at a training school for adolescent delinquent girls. The following hypotheses were tested: (1) The occurrence of delinquent responses exceeds the occurrence of non-delinquent responses. (2) The positive reinforcement of delinquent responses exceeds the punishment of delinquent responses. (3) The punishment of non-delinquent responses exceeds the positive reinforcement of non-delinquent responses. "Delinquent" and "non-delinquent" responses were defined according to the expressed support or rejection of the following staff behavioral expectations : (1) Modesty regarding sexual expression and general conduct. (2) Support of staff and other authority figures. (3) Support of institution and its properties. (4) Initiative shown toward school work, vocational training, and cottage programs. (5) Identification with socially acceptable, "law-abiding" way of life. (6) Consideration, concern, and respect for other people. "Positive reinforcements" were defined as attentive or approving behaviors while "punishments" consisted of inattentive or disapproving behaviors offered by peers contingent upon delinquent or nondelinquent responses. Observations of peer interaction were obtained for eleven "open" cottage and eleven "closed" cottage target subjects randomly drawn from each of two "open" cottages (relaxed supervision) and two "closed" cottages (strict supervision). Observations were collected by a participant observer after she had been acclimatized as a "visitor" in each of the four cottages and observer reliability had been established. All observations were made during evening "leisure" time when the girls of each cottage were together in their cottage "dayroom." The observer alternated among the four cottages each night and observed each target subject's communication with peers for two twenty-five minute periods on different nights. The observer did no recording in front of the girls and withdrew from the group after each twenty-five minute observation period to record in descriptive form all the behaviors observed in each delinquent and non-delinquent episode in which the subject had participated. Following a rater reliability check, the descriptive records were coded according to the type of response observed (delinquent or nondelinquent) and the type(s) of reinforcement observed (positive reinforcement or punishment). The behaviors described in the records were also categorized according to the Interpersonal Communication Behavior Analysis Method devised by Buehler and Richmond to establish the levels of communication on which peer interaction took place. The distribution of behaviors according to levels of communication showed that many behaviors occurred on the "biochemical" and "motor movement" levels suggesting that much social learning takes place through non-verbal communication. A hierarchical analysis of variance test was utilized to determine differences among cottages and between open and closed cottage condition in occurrence of delinquent and non-delinquent responses and positive reinforcement and punishment for the responses. No significant differences were found among the cottages or between open and closed cottage condition for these criteria. A t-test of differences was used to test the three major hypotheses, and the results showed the following: (1) Delinquent responses occurred significantly more often than non-delinquent responses. (2) Delinquent responses were positively reinforced significantly more often than they were punished. (3) Non-delinquent responses were punished significantly more often than they were positively reinforced. The confirmation of the three hypotheses is in agreement with the literature that suggests that anti-social behavior occurs frequently within institutions and is likely to be learned and maintained through inmate peer group association. These findings specifically suggest that the anti-social learning that takes place within juvenile institutions occurs because of the high frequency of positive reinforcements offered by peers for delinquent responses. The low frequency of positive reinforcements and the high frequency of punishments given by peers for non-delinquent responses would tend to keep the learning of socially acceptable behaviors at a minimum level.
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