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Changing Teenage Behavior

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In the article “Generalization of Aggressive Behavior in Adolescent Delinquent Boys,” Lois Horton investigates how aggressive and nonaggressive behavior responds to reinforcement in a group of six adolescent delinquent boys. One of the hypothesis in this research study is that “the frequency of aggressive responses would increase if reinforced in a particular situation, and conversely, that if only nonaggressive responses were reinforced in the situation aggressive responses would decrease” (Horton, 1970, p.206). The other hypothesis is that “the behavior reinforced in a situation would generalize to a different situation in which no reinforcement was given, provided that the two situations had a sufficient number of stimuli in common” (Horton, 1970, p.206).

The study sample in this research study is made of six individuals. They are a group of delinquent adolescents who reside in a delinquent home. Their ages are between 11 years, five months and 15 years, 10 months. Out of the six adolescent delinquents, three are described to have aggressive patterns of responding while the other three are said to have nonaggressive patterns of responding. The research study investigates the pattern of response in every delinquent when reinforcement is introduced. The dependent variables are aggressive response and nonaggressive response. On the other hand, the independent variable is the reinforcement introduced to the two groups of delinquents when playing the card games. Therefore, this research study has one independent variable and two dependent variables. The variables are measured through observation of the behavior of the delinquents during the card games.

In order to ensure that the results of the variables are optimal, the research undertakes direct observation of the behavior of the delinquents during the card games. The researcher gives clear instructions to the delinquents concerning the game and the reinforcements and then observes how they behave while playing the games. Furthermore, the researcher undertakes a high frequency of collection of data. The experiment lasts for seven weeks whereby the pattern of response of the individual members of the sample group is observed every evening. The researcher divides the sample into two groups. Each pair of three plays the card games for 20 minutes and makes 78 trials in every session. The researcher observes the sample at all times when they are playing the card games and records the pattern of response observed. This implies that the data collection method used by the researcher is observation.

The type of research design applied by the researcher is experimental design. Experimental research design entails subjecting the subject of the study under controlled condition and then observing the desired behavior of the subject matter under the controlled environment. Usually, experimental research takes place in laboratories. In experimental research, the main aim of the researcher is to explore the cause-effect relationship in variables. One of the advantages of experimental research design is that a researcher can control the environment of the research in order to meet the desired requirements. Since in experimental design the researcher applies observation as the single method of collecting data, it assists in avoiding biasness, which usually occurs when a researcher applies other methods of collecting data such as interviews and questionnaires. However, the disadvantage of this design is that it cannot be undertaken in the real world (uncontrolled settings).

In the baseline period, the researcher finds that the group of delinquents with aggressive behaviors displays aggressive pattern of response while the group of delinquents with nonaggressive behaviors displays nonaggressive pattern of response. However, during the intervention phase, where the researcher introduces reinforcement to their behavior, intensified responses are observed. More aggressive pattern of response is observed in the groups of delinquents who are said to be aggressive, while the group of delinquents with less aggressive behaviors starts displaying aggressive pattern of response when exposed to aggressive situation. Based on this, Horton (1970) concludes that, “aggressive behavior is a learned behavior that can be modified by operant conditioning procedures” (p.210). Horton’s conclusion is valid given that the number of observations made during the research study is substantial. Nonetheless, this study can be improved by grouping the delinquents differently. That is, instead of grouping aggressive delinquents separately from nonaggressive delinquents, each group should have individuals with each pattern of response. For instance, a group made of two aggressive delinquents and one nonaggressive delinquent. This would help in observing how exposure to aggressive behavior influences nonaggressive behavior.

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