VIDEO: Dr. James Garbarino Talks About the Advantages of Predictability, Regardless of the Situation

Watch an exerpt from PsychAlive’s exclusive interview with Dr. James Garbarino.

Dr. James Garbarino talks about how predicting behavior in others is advantageous – and how irrational behavior can be hard to respond to.

Dr. James Garbarino: I think whether it’s children or dogs, predictability generally is an asset in people’s relationships.  That people can accommodate to a lot, if at least they know it’s predictable.  If you know that your mother is cranky on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays because that’s the day X happens, or if you know that on Fridays, your father gets a bit wild because that’s when he gets his pay check, you can find a way with that sort of predictability to rationalize your environment a bit, to perhaps adjust your behavior.  You don’t come home on Friday because your father is wild.  You don’t talk to your mother until she’s had her coffee.

In the same way, some kids report that if their peer environment in the school is predictable, it gives them a little bit of safety, at least in the sense that, alright, I know, for example, if you watch the TV show Glee, you know that if you’re in the singing group and you walk down the hall, once a week a football player is going to throw a slushy in your face.  The predictability of that reduces somewhat the horror of it.

It’s much the same way in basic psychological parlance that intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful reinforcement.  Which is one reason why gambling is so difficult to break — because the intermittent reinforcement strengthens the response.  If you know that you’re going to get a reward or not get a reward, at least — the world may not be fair, it may be painful — but at least it seems rational.  If you add painful, unfair and then add unpredictable, you’re escalating the difficulty any being is going to have dealing with that — whether it’s a dog or a child or a teenager or whatever.

So I think that’s why kids report peer predictability as a modifying, a bit ameliorating, factor.  Now obviously, you’d want them to be predictably positive rather than predictably negative.  But they are somewhat orthogonal or separate issues.  The quality of the experience and the predictability of it.

Presumably, that applies to parents and children as well; that parents who are – that’s one reason why kids have such trouble with parents who are bipolar.  Because if they don’t know who they’re going to be dealing with, they can’t modulate their response.

About the Author

James Garbarino, Ph.D. James Garbarino Ph.D. is an author and Professor at Loyola University Chicago. An expert in the field of  child and adolescent development, he specializes in violence-related issues, such as the impact of violence on children, maltreatment of children and child aggression. Dr. Garbarino holds the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and was founding Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago. He has worked as an advisor to a wide range of organizations, including the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the FBI. He has authored a number of books, including his most recent work Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience: Confronting Global Realities and Rethinking Child Development (2009).

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