Mealey 2.4

From: Tchighianoff Caroline (
Date: Wed May 13 1998 - 16:03:31 BST

2.4 Learning Theory

Mealey is correct in pointing out the important role that
genotype-environment correlations play in the etiology of sociopathy.

   Adoption studies show that the environment clearly plays an
   important role in the etiology of sociopathy, but that its effects
   are different for individuals of different genotype. As mentioned in
   section 2.3.1, some of this difference is likely to be a result of
   gene-environment correlations.

Due to their genetic make-up, individuals may respond to their
environment in a certain way and may provoke certain responses from
their environment. Therefore to some extent they are responsible for
the environment in which they live.

1. Conditioning

Mealey illustrates that;
   there is evidence that individuals with a hypoaroused nervous system
   are less sensitive than most people to the emotional expression of
   other individuals, and to social influences in general (Eliasz &
   Reykowski 1986, Eysenck 1967 as cited in Patterson and Newman 1993).
   They are also less responsive to levels and types of stimuli that
   are normally used for reinforcement and punishment (Eliasz 1987)

She goes on to explain, that although such individuals exhibit no
general intelligence deficit, they have a reduced ability to be
socialised by the standard techniques of reward and punishment that
are used (especially in the lower classes and by uneducated parents)
on young children. Those children exhibiting high levels of
sensation-seeking because of their hyperaroused nervous system, will
also be more likely than other children to get into trouble, and when
they do, will be less likely to be affected by, and learn from, the
consequences whether those consequences are a direct result of their
behaviour or an indirect result such as parental punishment.

This is an interesting point, as it may suggest that higher levels
of sociopathy may be seen among individuals who as a child were
raised in the lower classes by uneducated parent. Such children at
risk of sociopathy can then be identified, and interventions may be
taken to prevent the development of later sociopathy.

Mealey then goes on to distinguish between primary and secondary

   Primary sociopaths, with diminished ability to experience anxiety
   and to form conditioned associations between antisocial behavior and
   the consequent punishment, will be unable to progress through the
   normal stages of moral development. Unlike most children who are
   biologically prepared to learn empathy, they are contraprepared to
   do so, and will remain egoistic- unable to acquire the social
   emotions of empathy, shame, guilt, and love. They present at an
   early age with "unsocialized" conduct disorder.

   Secondary sociopaths, with normal emotional capacities, will
   present, generally at a later age, with "socialized" conduct
   disorder (Loeber 1993, Patterson 1993, Simons 1993). What
   socialization processes contribute to their development?

This suggests that primary sociopathy is a result of some innate
predisposition that hinders a child from progressing through the
normal stages of moral development. It therefore may also suggest
that the primary sociopath cannot be held responsible foe his/her
actions. However, it may be a bit drastic to disregard the possible
effects of the environment. Environmental factors may also play a
part in the etiology of primary sociopathy, although not as important
as the role played by the environment in the development of secondary

2.4.2 Social learning

Social learning theory is employed in the explanation of
secondary sociopathy. Mealey describes path models that suggest a
two-stage process involving a variety of cumulative risk factors
(McGarvey et al 1981, Snyder, Dishion & Patterson 1986, Snyder &
Patterson 1990, Patterson, Capaldi & Bank 1991, Dishion et al 1991,
Loeber 1993, Simons 1993, Tremblay 1993, Moffitt 1993), in order to
explain the social variables involved in the development of secondary

   In the first stage, disrupted family life, associated with parental
   neglect, abuse, inconsistent discipline, and the use of punishment
   as opposed to rewards, are critical (Feldman 1977, Wilson &
   Hernnstein 1985, Snyder et al 1986, McCord 1986, Patterson et al
   1989, Luntz & Widom 1993, Conger 1993, Simons 1993). Poor parenting
   provides the child with inconsistent feedback and poor models of
   prosocial behavior, handicapping the child in the development of
   appropriate social, emotional, and problem-solving skills. This
   pattern is found most frequently in parents who are themselves
   criminal, mentally disturbed, undereducated, of low intelligence, or
   socioeconomically deprived (McGarvey et al 1981, McCord 1986,
   Farrington 1986), leading to a cross-generational cycle of
   increasing family dysfunction (eg. Jaffe, Suderman & Reitzel 1992,
   Luntz & Widom 1993).

Children exhibiting difficulties in the development of appropriate
social, emotional and problem-solving skills can therefore be
identified and interventions can be made by educating both the child
and the parents.

   In the second stage, children with poor social skills find
   themselves at a disadvantage in interactions with age-mates;
   rejected by the popular children, they consort with one another
   (Loeber & Dishion 1983, Snyder et al 1986, Kandel et al 1988, Hartup
   1989, and Patterson et al 1989, Dishion et al 1991). In these
   socially unskilled peer groups, which will also include primary
   sociopathic, or, unsocialized conduct disorder children, delinquent,
   antisocial behavior is reinforced and new (antisocial) skills are
   learned (Maccoby 1986, Moffitt 1993). Antisocial behavior may then
   escalate in response to, or as prerequisite for, social rewards
   provided by the group, or as an attempt to obtain the perceived
   social (and tangible) rewards which often accompany such behavior
   (Moffitt 1993).

Again, children that are exhibiting such behaviours can be
identified. Interventions can then be taken by encouraging the child
to engage in activities with a different set of peers. The ideal
setting for such interventions to be carried out would be in school.
Parents could also be asked to encourage their child to interact with
other peers. However, since a number of the parents of those
children identified to be at risk of sociopathy may exhibit
antisocial behaviour themselves, very few of them may respond to this

The development of secondary sociopathy depends much more upon
environmental factors, than does the development of primary
sociopathy. Therefore, social psychologists need to carry out
further research to identify the sociocultural factors that are
involved in the development of secondary sociopathy. The apprpriate
interventions to hinder it's development can then be taken.

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