Gluecks' Study of 500 Juvenile Delinquents Determines Root Causes of Criminal Behavior

Most professors engaged in research projects are doomed to see them gather dust for years on library shelves. At best they may receive the plaudits of their fellow specialists, but seldom if ever do they live to see their work applied to the progress of society.

It is more than rare that the value of a piece of research is immediately appreciated and applied to practical affairs-the work of Sheldon Glueck, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, and his wife Eleanor Glueck, a research criminologist at the Law School, is one of these few cases.

Generally recognized as tops in their field, the Gluecks have been pioneering in criminology for nearly 25 years under the sponsorship of the Law School. The last ten of these have been devoted to work on one of the most ambitions surveys ever undertaken in this or any other field. The results were published in a 400-page, highly detalled report entitled "Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency," which appeared in 1950, and were simplified and condensed for the layman in their book "Delinquents in the Making," published this year.

This new study is an attempt to penetrate to the real causes of delinquency and crime and to discover some means of preventing not the crime, but the criminal. The Gluecks have repudiated the traditional preventives usually prescribed: the banning of comic books, radio and television shows, which depict criminal episodes: the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages: the establishment of playgrounds, boys clubs, and casteens. Although all these may be incidentally helpful they certainly do not relate to the root causes of crime.

The Gluecks reject the traditional conception of crime as a result of poverty, suggestion, or decline in morality. They seek, in this study, to discover the truly basic complex set of interrelated factors which are at the seat of anti-social behavior.

The results of the project have been halled by lawyers, professors, paychologists, educators and social workers as one of the most significant contributions ever made to the field of criminology.

Practical Application

However, the most significant aspect of the reaction to the Glueck studies is that, with only two years elapsed since the publication of their first report, great interest has been shown among educational authorities throughout the country in the practical application of their theories.

Last fall the Boston School Committee unanimously approved a plan to train teachers to detect juvenile delinquency, or tendencies toward it, in grade school children. The teacher training course which will be given by the Boston Teachers College this fall is based on the method outlined in the Glueck book.

In recent months both the New York City School Board and the New York City Youth Board have indicated interest in experimentally testing some of the methods outlined in "Unravelling Juvenile Delinquency." However, the Gluecks are extremely cautious about applications of their methods and only want to see it applied on an experimental basis.

This study is infinitely more intensive than any they have attempted and possibly than any ever attempted in the field before. It is a study of 500 delinquent boys (seven to eleven years in age) matched, case for case, with 500 non-delinquents living in the Boston area. Each delinquent was matched with a non-delinquent by age, family background, general intelligence, ethnic derivation, and residence in an under-privileged neighborhood. This alone was a long and tedious process.

Then there Gluecks with a staff of anthropologists, psychiatrists, physicians, social workers, statisticians and other experts went to work in an attempt to find out what made half the boys delinquents and the other not.

The study employed specialists in all fields relevant to crime in order not to overlook any promising leads to crime causation. As the Gluecks themselves put it. "Our task is to discover the patterns of factors from all areas of the investigation which in their dynamic interplay and combined weight are causal of persistent delinquency."

The main mistake which the authors strived to avoid in their study was that of a one-sided approach. They were eager to encompass all conceivable approaches to the cause of crime. Judging by the outline of their procedure they succeeded.

The size and scope of the project can be appreciated from the fact that each boy was described in terms of 402 factors. The investigation falls generally into five main groupings: family and personal background, bodily types, health, intelligence, and temperament and character structure.

Group Overstressed

In connection with the family, the Gluecks feel strongly that American sociologists have grossly overemphasized the "group", gang, or cultural influences as the root causes of delinquency, shutting their eyes to the importance of the role of "family drama-affection relationships, disciplinary practices, the emotional tensions and other such crucially significant factors.

The Gluecks admit that neighborhood influences are not without some importance later in life: but they feel that the basic personality and character structure is laid down in the first agency of society, the family.

Following their stress on the importance of the role of the family the authors studied the history of delinquency, criminals, alcoholism, mental deficiency, emotional disturbances, and serious physical ailments not only in the immediate family, but in the grandparents, anus uncles. They also studied the cultural, psychological and emotional conditions in the home and the boy's progress in school.

The physiques of each boy were studied in terms of the famous classifications of Sheldon-endomorphy, ectomorphy, and mesomorphy. Data for this classification was obtained from detailed measurement of photographs of each boy from three sides.

Of couse each boy was given an extremely thorough medical examination. To determine intelligence each was given a battery of intelligence tests.

The study of temperament and character structure was carried on by means of the Rorschach (ink-biot) Test and interviews with each boy by a skilled peychiatrist.

Study Trait

After all the material was gathered, the researchers were in a very good position to begin investigation of exactly what factors determine deltsquent behavior. The object was to discover which traits were found among the deltsquents or a large portion thereof, while relatively lacking in the non-delinquent group.

The control group served as a yard stick against which the delinquests could be measured. Delinquents are often termed "deviates", but it is necessary to know what they deviate from. Otherwise a seemingly abnormal trait which may be seized upon as a dramatic explanation of the origin of delinquency may be present in like manner among non-deltaquents and therefore when regarding cause and effect, must be considered neutral.

As an example of this, one of the traditional explanations of the cause delinquency in the feeling of not being loved. The Glueck's study found that such a feeling existed to a marked degree in 84 percent of the delinquents, but also in 88 percent of the non-delinquents. Thus, it would appear that this feeling is one which is widespread among the children of the area studied, irrespective of their anti-social behavior. Consequently the Gluecks were forced to consider it causually neutral.

Other factors generally thought to be "causes of crime," including poor health (one percent of both delinquents and non-delinquents), neurotic behavior (25 percent of delinquents and 36 percent of the non-delinquents), feelings of insecurity or anxiety (89 percent of delinquents and 96 percent of the non-delinquents) have been shown to be neutral.

But, of course, the really significant portion of the study consists in the aggregate of those traits which have been shown to be significantly higher in the delinquent group. This obviously does not mean that each boy who possesses one or several of these traits must become delinquent, but as the Gluecks put "it becomes highly probable that we are dealing with some sort of causal connection between the factors and the behavior, rather than with casual or accidental coincidence between them.

The general portrait of the delinquent as compared to the non-delinquent reveals to us the important distinguishing traits. As a group, the Glueck study shows that delinquents tend to be mesomorphic, in constitution (solid, closely knit and muscular). In temperament they are more energetic, impulsive, extroverted, aggressive and destructive than the non-delinquents. In respect to attitude they are generally more hostile, suspicious, stubborn, unconventional, and adventurous. In intellectual life they tend to the direct and concrete rather than abstract expression and are less methodical than non-delinquents. In regard to background they are products of homes of little understanding, affection, and stability, in which the parents are usually unfit to serve as examples for their children.

These than are roughly the causes of delinquency, or as the Gluecks put it, "if we take into account the dynamic interplay of the differentiate factors from all these various levels and channels of influence, a rough causal explanation takes shape."

However, this is only half the job. The remaining problem of course is "how to detect early enough the danger signals of persistent maladapted behavior in order to cope with it before it becomes habitual." The Gluecks believe that the schools are the best place to attack this problem.

The reason is that the symptoms of maladaptive behavior first crop up-in the school. Almost all the delinquents studied indulged in some misconduct at school, ranging from defiance, stubborness, and lying to stealing and sexual misconduct. The Gluecks suggest that the school could function as the "litmus paper of personality and character maladaption, reflecting early in the child's growth the acid test of his failure in his first attempts to cope with the problems of life."

Three Tables

In accordance with this theory the Gluecks have set up three "prognostie tables" derived from, 1) the data on family background, 2) the Rorachach test, and 3) the paychiatric interviews. Each one of these is made up of the five most important factors in that area, on which the boys are rated. These tables have already been tested out and have preved to be very reliable.

The Glueck plan would be administered

somewhat as follows. Shortly after the child enters elementary school the investigation in terms of these three tables would be initiated. A skilled social worker would investigate the child's home, and his realtions with his parents. A psychologist would administer the Rorschach test, and a psychiatrist would carefully interview the child. Each would score him seperately and then compare opinions and add up the ratings. A bad score on one table would be nothing to be alarmed about, but if the child scores badly on all three then he will need considerable help from social worker, psychologist, and psychiatrist in order to provent him from becoming seriously delinquent.

The thing which is truly extraordinary about this projects is that educational authorities have already recognised the vital importance of the problem and the need for a preventive plan, and are more than interested in testing it out. If they do it will "enable communitties to begin on a program of reorientation of preventive efforts with the aim of more pointed and relevant attacks on (the) crucial factors" involved in the casuation of the criminal