A Contextual Approach to the Problem of Aversive Practices in Families
Anthony Biglan Lewis Lewin Hyman Hops Oregon Research Institute
Aversive behavior is a cardinal feature of most family problems. It is not hard to see the central role of such practices when considering the related problems of child and spouse abuse (e.g., Straus & Hotaling, 1980). However, aversive control practices are also the chief problem in nonabusive families where there is marital discord or problems with aggressive or noncompliant children. Aversive behavior is found in families where the mother is depressed, families in which there are multiply handicapped children, and families where a member is in chronic pain. Moreover, it is becoming clear that families that use aversive control practices are the crucible for later societal problems, in that children growing up in them are likely to have difficulties in work, social, and familial roles in later life ( Eider, Caspi, & Downey, 1986). Thus, the control of aversive practices in families must be a fundamental goal for those interested in improving the welfare of families. Such control cannot be ignored by persons who have a primary interest in a productive society in which the costs of social dislocation are minimized.
The aversive behavior of individual family members can only be understood in the context of the social and nonsocial contingencies for that behavior. The most salient fact about that context is that it, too, is aversive. We therefore analyze the contingencies for the aversive behavior of individual family members in terms of experimentally derived principles of the effects of aversive events on behavior. These principles appear to encompass the most important ways in which aversive behavior is established and maintained in families. However, by itself such an analysis is incomplete. It does not address the ways in which the larger cultural context affects aversive practices in families. We therefore discuss the effects of the larger context on families' aversive practices using the framework provided by Harris' ( 1979) theory of cultural materialism.