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Family Relationships and Crime - Interpreting The Data

aggression rewards punishments parents

After World War II, scientists began to study socialization by producing in microcosm conditions that seemed important for understanding personality development. Early studies generally reflected the psychoanalytic perspective. Aggression was conceived as instinctual, and conscience was thought of as a "superego" that developed from identification with a parent. As Freudian influence declined, researchers began to consider alternative theories.

Laboratory experiments showing that observing aggression can produce aggressive behavior suggest why punitive parents may tend to have aggressive offspring. Imitation of aggression in the laboratory increases when aggression is described as justified. Parents who justify their use of pain as punishment may foster the idea that inflicting pain is appropriate in other contexts.

Much effort has been expended in investigating the role played by rewards and punishments in teaching children how to act. Although it has been demonstrated that prompt feedback increases conformity to norms, some studies also show the paradoxical effects of rewards and punishments. Rewards sometimes decrease performance, and punishments sometimes increase forbidden actions. These studies suggest that use of rewards and punishments can create ambiguous messages. Similar ambiguities may affect parent-child relationships. Lax discipline and the absence of supervision, as well as parental conflict, could increase delinquency because they impede communication of the parents' socializing messages.

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