Reinforcement theories that depend on the construct of drive reduction (e.g., Hull, 1943) have not been very useful to the empirical study of peer relations. No one denies that some changes in a child’s behavior may stem from peer interaction that generates drive reduction on a contingent basis. But the earlier social learning theories based on drive reduction (e.g., Dollard & Miller, 1950) proved to be limited in their utility for several reasons: (1) attentional and observational phenomena were not accounted for adequately; (2) knowing what responses are being reinforced by what kind of drive reduction in most peer interactions is difficult to determine; and (3) connecting the acquisition of discrete responses to the complex planning and executive behavior employed by older children in their interactions with one another is difficult. Thus, the limited usefulness of these theories in peer relations research is due partly to limitations in the theories themselves and partly to difficulties in application. 

Theories of operant learning (behavior modification) have been more useful in studying peer relations, because such models of behavior change depend only on the observer’s ability to identify positive and negative reinforcing events in the interactional sequence (i.e., stimuli associated with response acceleration or deceleration). Over the years, Gerald Patterson and his associates have explored such events in both peer interaction and family interaction, beginning with a series of studies in which acceleration and deceleration in the aggressive behavior of nursery school children were shown to be linked either to positive or negative reinforcing reactions by the other children (Patterson, Littman, & Bricker, 1967).
These studies required clearly operationalized aggression constructs, a demonstrable catalog of reinforcing events, and reliable measures of the occurrence of these stimuli and the relevant reinforcers. Positive reinforcers for aggression occurring within peer interaction turn out not to be approval or attention but, rather, crying, passivity, and defensiveness by the victim. Punishments consist of the victim’s tattling or counterattacks. 
Subsequent investigation of these notions stresses the social disadvantages that aggressive children encounter in making friends and in social activity. Escalating aggression, based on coercive socialization in both the family and the peer group (Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992), limits the aggressive child in his or her attempts to acquire friends, so that close associates are likely to be aggressive and antisocial themselves. Within these contexts, talk with friends is likely to emphasize deviant behavior (Poulin, Dishion, &Haas, 1999) and interaction to involve conflict and assertiveness (Dishion, Andrews, & Crosby, 1995), both of which lead to acceleration of troublesome, antisocial behavior. 
Deviant talk, then, figures centrally in the development of aggressive individuals. The extent to which these theoretical viewpoints are useful in studying the development of prosocial behavior and peer interaction, for example, or socially withdrawn behavior, are not well established.

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