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Author Notes:

Direct correspondence to either author at Dept. of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, e-mail: psyjjmd@emory.edu, e-mail: mlcaron@emory.edu



  • generalized matching law
  • verbal behavior
  • antisocial behavior
  • juvenile delinquency

Bias and Undermatching in Delinquent Boys' Verbal Behavior As a Function of Their Level of Deviance


Journal Title:

Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior


Volume 93, Number 3


, Pages 471-483

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Eighty-one 13- to 14-year-old boys at risk for delinquency (target boys) engaged in brief dyadic conversations with their peer friends. The target boys' verbal behavior was coded into two mutually exclusive content categories, rule-break talk and normative talk. Positive social responses from peer boys for each category of talk were also recorded, and were presumed to reinforce the target boys' verbal behavior. A measure of child deviance was available for each target boy. The generalized matching law was fitted to the target boys' response and time allocation data and provided an excellent description of their verbal behavior, with an expected degree of undermatching and strong bias in favor of normative talk. When the boys' data were separated into groups of increasing child deviance, the matching law continued to provide an excellent description of the boys' verbal behavior regardless of their level of deviance, but undermatching became more severe and bias favoring normative talk became less strong as child deviance increased. Based on a selectionist theory of adaptive behavior dynamics from the basic science, it was suggested that the increasing degree of undermatching might be due to a decline in the reinforcing value of positive social responses with increasing child deviance. It was also suggested that the trend in the bias parameters might be due to different histories of reinforcement and punishment of rule-break and normative behavior for boys characterized by different levels of child deviance.

Copyright information:

© Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Inc.

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