group therapy
Friendships can be beneficial, but watch out when talk about deviant topics is the best way to get a laugh in an adolescent relationship, because such interaction may well lead to questionable behavior down the road, say University of Oregon researchers.

For their study, published in the September/October 2007 issue of the journal Child Development, the researchers videotaped 16- and 17-year-olds as they interacted with close friends. The UO team was seeking to find mechanisms behind the idea that antisocial behavior is predictable based on the behavior of peers. Subjects were divided into three groups of 40 based on their earlier classifications as normal, late-starters or persistently antisocial in an on-going longitudinal study.

The findings present "a mixed bag," with both good and bad aspects of friendship, said co-author Thomas J. Dishion, professor of psychology and school psychology. "The study speaks to the power of peer influence in shaping outcomes," said lead author Timothy F. Piehler, a doctoral student in psychology.

Videotaping was done in 45-minute sessions while the subjects engaged in one-on-one conversations. Interactions were coded to help analyze the subjects they discussed, the amount of time spent on each topic and the quality of interactions such as eye contact and staying focused.

When antisocial teenagers interacted closely with each other and spent their time discussing such things as substance abuse and breaking the law, they tended to later engage in more problem behavior, the researchers found. This finding supports the idea that friendships closely bonded over deviant values may more heavily influence problem behaviors, Piehler said.

"I think the broad implication of this work and a major message of Tom's past work is that we should be very cautious about creating opportunities for antisocial youth to form close friendships with each other," he said. "Antisocial youth are regularly grouped together in a number of settings, such as group therapy for substance use or in the juvenile justice system. If these settings are not structured properly, they may in fact be exacerbating the problems they intend to treat by encouraging the formation of close friendships centered on antisocial behavior."

Comment: Andrew Lobaczewski identified this problem early on in his book Political Ponerology:
Another phenomenon all ponerogenic associations have in common is their statistically high concentration of individuals with various psychological anomalies. Their qualitative composition is crucially important in the formation of the entire union's character, activities, development, or extinction.

Groups dominated by various kinds of characteropathic individuals will develop relatively primitive activities, proving rather easy for a society of normal people to break. However, things are quite different when such unions are inspired by psychopathic individuals.
When drawn into a felonious group, these constitutionally weakened individuals become faint-critical helpers and executors of the leader's intentions, tools in the hands of more treacherous, usually psychopathic, leaders. Once arrested, they submit to their leaders' insinuated explanations that the higher (paramoral) group ideal demands that they become scapegoats, taking the majority of blame upon themselves. In court, the same leaders who initiated the delinquencies mercilessly dump all the blame onto their less crafty colleagues. Sometimes a judge actually accepts the insinuations.

The study reinforced findings reported in 2004 by Dishion that successful adolescents generally have positive, well-organized interactions with their friends. That study, in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that if friendships focus on deviance, the positive friendships predicted escalations in antisocial behavior up to age 24 - as many as 10 years later.

"Tim's study took my earlier findings to a new level to more clearly indicate that it was the positive qualities of friendships that account for influence, both positive and negative," said Dishion, director of the Child and Family Center, a UO-connected institute with offices in Eugene and Portland.

The long-term study from which the subjects were taken from involves some 1,000 kids whose patterns of behavior have been monitored from the sixth to 11th grades by the Portland office of the Child and Family Center. The three groups in the new study involved kids who have shown little or no problem behaviors, late starters who didn't exhibit problem behaviors until about age 15 and persistently antisocial youth who have shown continual patterns of high-risk behaviors, including criminal activity.

The UO researchers also concluded that:
  • Persistently antisocial youth generally demonstrated lower-quality interactions. They paid less attention, did not listen carefully, and spent much more time discussing deviant topics than other adolescents. While the time teens spent discussing deviant topics generally reflected each group's typical behavior, there were no differences between the groups in the amount of time they spent talking about positive topics, the study found.
  • Lower-quality relationships of persistently antisocial youth were thought to reflect a history of poor peer relationships involving conflict and frequent rejection by others. The other adolescents, on the other hand, were more likely to have had positive early friendship experiences, allowing them to better develop the skills needed to maintain close and caring relationships with peers.