The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Prosocial Responses of Therapeutic Community Residents to Peer Affirmations and Corrections

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:00 PM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Keith Warren, PhD, Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Nathan Doogan, MSW, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Ashleigh Hodge, BA, Research Assistant, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background and purpose:  Therapeutic communities (TCs) are known to promote a positive social environment in prison settings (Shuker & Sullivan, 2010).  This is intriguing because TCs depend on peer affirmations for prosocial behavior and peer corrections for antisocial behavior to encourage and enforce prosocial norms (De Leon, 2000).  This is the first quantitative study to test the hypothesis that TC residents increase prosocial behavior in response to peer affirmations and corrections.

Methods:  The data for this study consists of electronic records of 282,604 peer affirmations received, 152,797 peer corrections received,  and 290,539 affirmations sent,  exchanged between 3517 residents at three different community corrections-based residential TCs in the Midwestern United States.  The difference in the number of affirmations sent and received comes from a combination of affirmations that were sent but not sent to peers--for instance, it was possible to affirm staff members—as well as clerical errors. A multilevel negative binomial model was used to analyze the reactions of residents to affirmations and corrections received on a weekly time scale.  It was expected that residents who received more peer corrections and peer affirmations would tend to send more affirmations on the same week and at least one lagged week.  The model controlled for age, gender, race and the Level of Services Inventory—Revised (LSI-R) (Andrews & Bonta, 1995).  The model was replicated across all three facilities.

Results:  At all three facilities residents who received affirmations were more likely to send them during the same week (IRR = 1.1742, SE = .0057; IRR = 1.1343, SE = .0028; IRR = 1.1177, SE = .0042) and on a one week lag (IRR = 1.0402, SE = .0051; IRR = 1.0303, SE = .0025; IRR = 1.0371, SE = .0042).  While the effect size as measure by IRR declined, the positive relationship between affirmations received and affirmations sent was detectible for lags of as long as six weeks.  At all three facilities residents who received corrections were more likely to send affirmations during the same week (IRR = 1.0307, SE = .0085; IRR = 1.0350, SE = .0043; IRR = 1.0284, SE = .0045) and on a one week lag (IRR = 1.0198, SE = .0076; IRR = 1.0121, SE = .0040; IRR = 1.0105, SE = .0046).  No other variable was statistically significant across all facilities. 

Discussion:  Affirming a peer for prosocial behavior is itself a prosocial act.  These findings indicate that at least some of the prosocial behavior that is evident in TCs arises from interpersonal interactions between residents.  Reaction to receiving affirmations is both stronger initially and longer lasting than reaction to receiving corrections. Therapists can use these findings to increase the number of prosocial actions on their units by encouraging residents to send more affirmations to peers.  More broadly, the findings tend to validate the clinical theory behind TCs and other mutual aid-based programs.