A History of the Oregon Social Learning Center

The Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) was started by a small group of researchers and clinicians interested in solving the problem of child antisocial behavior. For thirty years, two psychologists  formed the nucleus of the group: Gerald R. Patterson and the late John B. Reid. The individual and joint efforts of Patterson and Reid and their close colleagues set the foundation for what OSLC is today.

The Development of Parent Training: The 1960’s

Oregon Social Learning Center’s first home in Eugene.

Patterson had been trained in traditional clinical methods such as projective testing and play therapy, but these did not seem to assist much in helping children with aggressive behavior problems. In contrast, the results of the marble box studies suggested that behavior modification had great promise for changing child aggressive behavior, and several professors at the University of Oregon (UO) guided Patterson in learning and applying behavioral analysis procedures.

In the early 1960’s, the new “social learning” group began a series of clinical studies with children, parents, and teachers. It was soon clear that parents and their day-to-day parenting behaviors were better targets for changing child aggressive behavior than direct clinical intervention with children, and the development of effective “parent training” techniques became the focus of the work. Findings from live in-home observations of family interaction drove this work forward, and many people served as observers, including Kathy Reid, Donna Sundberg, Irene Troup, Rachel Condon, Betty Brummett, LaVella Garber, and Johnnie Johnson.

Founder Jerry Patterson camping with his boys.

While the social learning group was getting off the ground, a new non-profit research center was incorporated in Eugene, the Oregon Research Institute (ORI). ORI was the brainchild of Paul Hoffman, an assistant professor from the UO psychology department who had been inspired by “think tanks” in the San Francisco area.

By the mid-1960’s, Patterson was disenchanted with the university world, and he left the psychology department and took his clinical research program to ORI. At ORI, work continued on the development of parent training methods as well as the development of measures of intervention outcome, such as child and family observational coding systems.

The group that was to become OSLC began to take shape during the ORI years. The group was based on a variety of ideas, including the ongoing hiring of bright, multitalented, and flexible people for each of the jobs within the group; the maintenance of a relaxed and informal work environment; and the importance of spending time together outside of work. This environment has contributed to a variety of people staying with the group for many years, such as Mary Perry. Mary was hired in 1967, served as one of OSLC’s first administrators, and today continues to serve as an OSLC Administrative Officer.

The Clinical Research Years: The 1970’s

Moving into our new Oregon Research Institute building.

By 1971, Reid, like Patterson, had had enough of university life, and he returned to work at ORI. While Reid was away, the social learning group had begun to conduct research in marital as well as parenting interventions. During this period, Patterson worked with a number of talented individuals, including Hy Hops, Bob Weiss, Dick Jones, and Joe Cobb. While the interests of the group expanded, Patterson kept the group focused on building a “performance model” of aggression. This focus was central to all the work that followed. As the group grew, a variety of research papers, treatment manuals, and books were produced. Patterson’s son, Scot, established Castalia Publishing Company, as one outlet for the work.

By the mid-1970’s, the rapidly expanding and highly successful ORI was showing signs of institutional strain, and in 1976, Patterson, Reid, and colleagues left to form their “own institute”. Other groups left as well, and the original ORI collapsed.

At the social learning group’s newly opened clinic and research center, work continued on the development of interventions for a widening set of problems, including children who steal and parents who abuse their children. Bob Conger served as the first clinical director. Patricia Chamberlain eventually took over this job, and Marion Forgatch, Kate Kavanagh, Tom Dishion, Mark Weinrott, and others worked on both research and therapy projects. As the clinical work expanded, Matt Fleischman did early work on the dissemination of parent training to service settings such as child welfare.

Around this time, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the U.S. Public Health Service began to strongly encourage the group to expand their research portfolio to include longitudinal studies of the development of childhood aggression. Dennis Moore, Rolf Loeber, Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, Tom Dishion, Margaret McKean, Marion Forgatch, Will Mayer, Karen Schmaling, and others worked on a “planning study” funded by NIMH to prepare for a comprehensive longitudinal study.

A Multi-Disciplinary Research Center is Hatched: The 1980’s

Scientists Lew Bank, Patricia Chamberlain, Kate Kavanagh and John Reid with Project Coordinators Irma August and Becky Higgins.

After several years as an affiliate organization of the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, and then as the Evaluation Research Group (ERG; a name inherited from Dick Jones), the group incorporated in 1983 as the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). Administrator Gary Morse spearheaded this effort, and designed the first administrative policies and procedures for the fledging organization. As his accountant, Morse hired Gerry Bouwman.

The planning study was successful, and NIMH ultimately funded the Oregon Youth Study (OYS), which set out to study the development of fourth grade boys living in local “at risk” neighborhoods. Deborah Capaldi was hired to manage the project. A variety of new employees were hired, including Becky Fetrow, Miles Yamamoto, Judy Ray, Lynn Crosby, Karen Gardner, Shannon McCarthy, Dianna Larsen, Jan Frey, and J.P. Davis. Several years later, Kristen Greenley, Kathy Jordan, John Martin, Karen Yoerger, and long time ORI and ERG employee Judy Boler were hired as well. Many of these individuals went on to play key roles in the center and still work at OSLC.

Scientist Jerry Patterson and John Reid in a formal moment.

Not long after the OYS was funded, a variety of other research projects were funded as well. Forgatch and Patterson received a grant to begin the first Oregon Divorce Study; Chamberlain and the clinical group developed a new therapeutic foster care based-treatment for delinquent youth and began to receive state and local contracts to provide services; and Reid was funded as the director of an OSLC-based post-doctoral training program. Beverly Fagot, now a professor at the UO, returned to OSLC as one of the first post-docs, and was soon funded for a longitudinal study of a group of toddlers and their families. Lew Bank, a recent arrival to the area from UCLA, was another post-doc. Bank worked with Dishion, Patterson, and others on applying structural equation modeling to the growing OSLC data sets.

By the mid-1980’s, the first “Executive Committee” of scientists at OSLC was formed, comprising Patterson, Reid, Chamberlain, Fagot, Forgatch, and Bouwman, who was promoted to center administrator. Chamberlain’s group grew to include Irma August, Becky Higgins, Alison Prescott, J.P. Davis, Karla Antoine, Kevin Moore, and others. Near the end of the decade, Dishion completed his doctoral work at the UO and received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study the Adolescent Transitions Program. Reid became an active member and later chair of various NIMH grant review committees. With these diverse aspects of OSLC now in place, the center was ready to take off.

Expansion and Specialization: The Past Two Decades

In 1991, Reid and the other OSLC scientists received a prestigious “prevention intervention research center grant” from NIMH. This enabled OSLC scientists to conduct more extensive research and development projects than ever before. The first major new project was the development and testing of a school-based intervention, the Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) program. LIFT would become the largest study yet at OSLC, with 671 families participating.

As the number of researchers at OSLC grew, the Executive Committee made the decision to move in the direction of a “satellite model”, where each scientist became more functionally autonomous with respect to administrative procedures. In turn, project coordinators and administrative support staff became more focused on specific research projects.

With an increased funding base and more employees came specialization and further segmentation of center activities. The OYS continued to be funded, and branched out into several studies, including a study of the romantic relationships of the now young men by Capaldi and a study of the siblings of OYS participants by Bank. Forgatch and colleagues, including post-docs Dave DeGarmo and Charles Martinez, conducted intervention studies with single mothers and step families. Dishion and colleagues, including Kate Kavanagh and Dave Andrews, extended their research program on the Adolescent Transitions Program from Eugene to the urban area of Portland, Oregon.

One of OSLC’s Project Support Groups.

Research scientist Fagot continued to follow her toddlers, who were now teens, as well as to conduct numerous studies of child development before dying of cancer at the age of 60 years. Fagot students Phil Fisher and Leslie Leve took over leadership on her various projects, and another Fagot and Reid student, Mark Eddy, began a long-term follow-up of Chamberlain’s clinical trial of treatment foster care. Capaldi and Katherine Pears, another graduate student of Fagot, took over an intergenerational study of the children of the OYS participants, which had been initiated several years earlier by Fagot and Patterson.

A variety of other new research scientists joined OSLC and initiated new projects. Joann Wu Shortt, a visiting researcher from the University of Washington, began a new study of sibling relationships during middle school, and included measures of physiological functioning. Mike Stoolmiller, a methodologist at OSLC since 1987, and Jim Snyder, a long time collaborator from Wichita State University, began an intensive study of children enrolled in HeadStart and their families. Stoolmiller also became a member of the national Prevention Science Methodology Group organized by C. Hendricks Brown from the University of South Florida. Leve, Stoolmiller, and Patterson, and Fagot worked on several projects related to human behavioral genetics. DeGarmo was funded to conduct a research project on divorced fathers and their experiences over time. Dana Smith received a career development award. Hyoun Kim began to work with Capaldi on studying the couples relationships of OYS participants.

An important development during this decade was a variety of community outreach efforts by OSLC researchers. Fisher and collaborator Tom Ball of the Modoc/Klamath Tribe began to work with the Siletz Tribe to develop a new “Indian Family Wellness” intervention. Together with six tribes in the geographic region, they also established the Northwest Indian Prevention Intervention Research Center. Fisher expanded research on foster care into early childhood, and began to examine changes not only in psychological functioning but also physiological measures of stress.

Chamberlain and colleagues expanded their studies on Treatment Foster Care to include a trial with girls in the juvenile justice system. Martinez, Eddy, and DeGarmo started the Latino Research Team, which began to work closely with Centro LatinoAmericano, a Eugene-Springfield based social service agency. Bank began collaboration with Lincoln County, focusing on the delivery of Hill Walker’s First Steps program in the schools as well as parent training throughout the county. Eddy, Martinez, Leve, and Reid also began a close collaboration with the Oregon Department of Corrections to develop prevention programs targeting the children of incarcerated parents.

In turn, these local collaborations encouraged national and international collaborations. Eddy and Reid became active members of the Board of Directors of the Society for Prevention Research (SPR), Eddy helped establish the Early Career Preventionists Network (ECPN), and the OSLC Prevention Intervention Research Center hosted the websites of a variety of professional prevention groups. Chamberlain and colleagues began a large-scale dissemination trial in San Diego County.

Chamberlain’s Treatment Foster Care was recognized by a variety of federal agencies as a “best practice”, and the group began training communities around the country to deliver the program. Forgatch, Patterson, Nancy Knutson, Laura Rains, and their colleagues began to extend their parent training work into a variety of locations around the country and the world, including Norway and Iceland. Fisher and colleagues became a key part of a network of researchers interested in the relationship between biology and behavior. Spurred on by a grant from the McConnell Clark Foundation of New York, Reid, Chamberlain, Eddy, Fetrow, and colleagues began close collaborations with colleagues at research institutes in Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and New York City.

During the past decade, a variety of new organizations have been created with affiliations to OSLC. Dishion accepted a professorship at the UO and eventually left OSLC to start his own research institute, the UO affiliated Child and Family Center. Hill Walker, longtime chair of OSLC’s Board of Directors and UO professor, started the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior within the UO College of Education. To further the mission of their workgroup, Chamberlain’s clinical group formed their own independent non-profit, OSLC Community Programs, with Bouwman as administrator, as well as an independent for-profit, TFC Consultants.

Forgatch’s international parent management training group formed their own independent non-profit, Implementation Sciences International. Reid and colleagues established the non-profit Center for Research to Practice to study the dissemination of OSLC interventions and related topics.

Today, OSLC is a multidisciplinary research center that includes 14 research scientists, 7 doctoral level research associates, and over 160 scientific and administrative support staff. Over the past 40 years, the group has published over 700 articles and books on the development, prevention, and treatment of child aggression, antisocial behavior, and delinquency.

Author: J. Mark Eddy, October 3, 2006

Jerry Patterson and John Reid