Challenges adjusting from volatile to stable social rewards can lead to misbehavior
Physical abuse at home doesn’t just leave kids black and blue. It also bruises their ability to learn how to act at school and elsewhere, contributing to abused children’s well-documented behavior problems.
Derailment of a basic form of social learning has, for the first time, been linked to these children’s misbehavior years down the line, psychologist Jamie Hanson of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues report February 3 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Experiments indicate that physically abused kids lag behind their nonabused peers when it comes to learning to make choices that consistently lead to a reward, even after many trials.
“Physically abused kids fail to adjust flexibly to new behavioral rules in contexts outside their families,” says coauthor Seth Pollak, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.