At different developmental stages, antisocial behavior may be learned in very different ways and in very different settings. It is hypothesized that young antisocial children are most likely to acquire antisocial behaviors in the home (Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). In that setting, the most likely causal mechanism involves contingent use of aversive stimuli in escape-conditioning sequences. On the other hand, it is assumed that those who wait until adolescence to become antisocial are trained by members of the deviant peer group in settings where adult supervision is at a minimum. For them, the causal mechanisms are thought to be modeling, positive reinforcement, and avoidant conditioning rather than escape conditioning. Presumably, the early training in the home leads to early police arrest and chronic offending, whereas training in the peer group during mid-adolescence leads to late arrest but not to chronicity (Patterson, Capaldi, & Bank, 1991).
The present report is focused primarily on the early-onset path to chronic delinquent offending. There is a succession of problems to be considered. First, how is it that one family member reinforces another for being coercive? Much of this unlikely training is supposed to involve the exchange of aversive stimuli and escape-conditioning sequences. What is the evidence for such a process in family interaction? The vast bulk of family interaction, even when it involves aversive stimuli, seems relatively trivial in nature. How can the progression from trivial to high-amplitude coercive behaviors (physical assault) be explained?
The relation of family to the culture contains many contradictions. On the one hand, the family's function is to make the next generation ready for socialization by agents outside the family. On the other hand, it is the function of a small number of families to prepare individuals who will function as agents of change. The family must somehow retain its sense of identity while one half of its members prepare to enter and the other half prepare to leave society. This tiny, transitory social system floats in a societal sea that is constantly making contradictory demands for changes and, simultaneously, for constancy and equilibrium. Clinicians and developmentalists alike would agree on the necessity for the study of change. The official imprimatur for such studies has been issued and reissued for decades. It is not a lack of interest or commitment that prevents our working in this area; it is simply that we do not know how to proceed. This chapter outlines some metaphors that seem appropriate to the study of process. Data will be presented at several points to illustrate the utility of thinking about it in this way.
As employed here, the term process refers to behavior changing over time along a discernible trajectory. A plot of the changes over time in children's height and weight would be one example of a process. Changes over time in musical skill, or in the skills that maintain acquaintances, friends, or building intimate relationships would be other examples.
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