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Researchers Pioneer in Classifying Role of Environment on Delinquency

Inborn Traits Important


The Gluecks are presently among the world's experts in Juvenile delinquency. Of their 200 books and articles, "Unravelling Juvenile Delinquency" (1950) and "Predicting Delinquency and Crime" (1959) are particularly well-known. "Family Environment and Delinquency" is considered one of the most profound studies of delinquency to date.

Two Harvard social researchers have classified for the first time the personal traits associated with juvenile lawbreakers as essentially constitutional (inborn) or essentially environmental.

The detailed investigation by Sheldon Glueck, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, and his wife, Elcanor T. Glueck, research associate in criminology, will assist case workers by identifying the source of each trait.

Published as a book entitled "Family Environment and Delinquency," the work focuses largely on the role of such factors as parental affection, discipline, illness, alcoholism, and criminalism of parents in inclining children toward delinquency. The book explores the question of why only certain economically underprivileged families have delinquent children and why in such households only some children become law-breakers, and explains why social and cultural influences are not uniform but selective.

Among the major contributions of the new work are the following:

* While not denying the importance of preventive and treatment programs which take account both of the total neighborhood and the total person, it is also important that those engaged in the management of delinquency fix their sights on more specific targets in terms of criminogenic traits and factors. A greater specificity of endeavor becomes possible on the findings of the new study.

* Certain inimical family influences during the first few years of life can affect development of delinquency in three ways: (a) by contributing to the formation of traits shown to be significantly associated with antisocial tendencies in children; (b) by rendering criminogenic some traits which, in the absence of such malign family influences, are usually neutral; (c) by influencing delinquent trends quite apart from the influence of the delinquency-linked physiologic, neurologic or paychologic factors.

* The influences of the home environment on delinquency operate selectively to propel toward maladjustment only those children characterized by specific traits which enhance their vulnerability. Some such traits are essentially constitutional and therefore rigid. For these, it is possible to reduce the hazards of delinquency by altering environmental factors. Other traits are essentially due to sociocultural conditioning and are therefore more plastic and modifiable.

Still others are brought about by essentially similar contributions of genetic endowment and environmental conditioning, and should respond in some measure to re-education of the individual.

* Individuals differ in the degree of permeability or affinity to the elements in the social and cultural milleu in which they find themselves and to which they are subjected. It is the concatenation in the particular child of factor-trait influences from divergent sources that determines whether, at a certain degree of pressure, resistance to anti-social expression will break down.

Differential contamination, rather than differential association, as many sociologists claim, is the core of the etiologic process in delinquency. Contamination depends not merely on exposure but also on susceptibility as opposed to immunity.

As an illustration of the selective impact of social influences, one example from the Gluecks' new book may be taken:

It had been previously found that a significantly higher proportion of boys to whom the father was unacceptable as a pattern of emulation existed among delinquents than among non-delinquents. In the new work it was discovered that the impact of this emotional deprivation, on which much of the building of character depends, is heavier among boys who are characterized by the traits of stub- Stubborness, uninhibited meter responses the stimuli, and acquisitiveness.

The obvious remedial approach is to provide a substitute adult medal with whom boys with unacceptable fathers son identity--a Boy Scout leader, Big Brother, athletic director, a man interested in various hobbies who in addition has the gift of understanding and love of human beings. But such a person would be in a better position to deal effectively with a boy if he know something of his traits and their orientation.

It would be helpful for him to know that one of the traits linked to delinquency, stubbornness, does not vary among boys of different body builds. Thus, whether a boy is essentially athletic or physically fragile makes little difference. Another helpful discovery for the parent-substitute to know is that while a father's unacceptability as a pattern for emulation does not in itself contribute to formation of the criminogenic trait of stubbornness in his son, its presence does enhance the boy's delinquency potential

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