Psychologists Plan Research on Behavior of Eugene Children

April 3, 1961

by Register-Guard Staff

Why does a child use certain words, mannerisms, facial expression? How is his overall behavior pattern formed? How much influence do his parents have?

With the help of a small house trailer, special electronic equipment and the cooperation of Eugene parents and children, a University of Oregon team of psychologists will soon begin to seek the answers to these and similar questions.

Gerald R. Patterson, assistant professor of psychology, is director of the project. Assisting him are Beverly Sonoda and Cecil Hinsey, both Ph.D. candidates in psychology. Richard A. Littman, professor of psychology, is a consultant for the project.

The team will begin with children attending Ellis Parker Elementary School. Patterson or one of the other team members will go to the child’s home, and conduct the experiment there. That, he explained, is the advantage of the trailer–it can be pulled into the driveway, and the electronic equipment can be hooked up to a regular house circuit.

Patterson explained that to reveal the details of the experiment would spoil it, since reactions of the children might be influenced if they knew what to expect. In brief, it consists of the child playing a simple game while his parents look on. The psychologist conducting the experiment watches from behind a panel in the trailer, and the equipment records the results.

Explaining the basis for the experiment, Patterson said “We all behave in a way that will lead to the approval of parents, friends, peers.”

Through the experiments, he hopes to find out how the child seeks approval, how the parent expresses it, and how a child’s behavior may be changed as the result of the parents’ approval or disapproval.

Parental approval results in what psychologists call “social reinforcement,” Patterson explained. “For instance, we use social reinforcement to approve certain words.”

If the initial experiments are successful, Patterson said, they will be expanded, and may go on for a long period, perhaps several years. The study is a complicated one, he said, and the team doesn’t expect to find its answers quickly.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 1961, The Register-Guard, www.registerguard.com.