• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Thursday 23rd January, 2014

Roar if you want to be a prosocial animal

strong>Kids innately want to “do good,” according to a team of Dutch researchers. A cognitive behavioral program called TIGER - widely used in the Netherlands - aims to tap this intrinsic motivation. Now the first test of the program in mental health centers suggests that it helps 8- to 11-year olds with problem behavior.The TIGER program made significant inroads among children and parents who participated in the 10-session intervention. The program reduced levels of aggression, depressed behavior, and social problems.In the past decade, a raft of cognitive behavioral programs have sprung up to train children and parents in the skills needed to reinforce positive behavior and discourage antisocial behavior. TIGER adds two less typical elements, the Dutch research team argued. First, it aims to “activate children’s intrinsic motivation ‘to do good.’” And second, it teaches children to “take responsibility for their own choices.”TIGER is a longstanding program in the Netherlands. A previous evaluation found that it was effective in increasing pro-social behavior when delivered by teachers in schools. This new study suggests that with adaptations to the program, the intervention is also effective in mental health care settings delivered by psychologists and with the addition of parent involvement.It’s grrreat to be a TIGERThe TIGER program - called Kanjertraining in Dutch - consists of 10 group sessions of one and a half hours each, delivered every other week. Trained psychologists deliver TIGER to children and their parents and the focus is on developing social skills.The authors explain how it works. “Parents learn to… appeal to the child’s own desire to behave prosocially. The trainer models this to parents by being surprised when a child misbehaves and asking children whether the specific behavior was in line with the child’s intention… In the rare cases that a child claims to have negative intentions, the trainer shows disbelief and sets boundaries.”The recent study was conducted by one of the psychologists from the Institute for Kanjertraining and colleagues from Utrecht University. They wanted to test TIGER in a real-world setting, because programs that are successful in lab conditions are often less effective in routine practice. Since TIGER is used in 30 mental health centers in the Netherlands, knowing how well it works in daily practice is vital. TIGER was evaluated using a quasi-experimental design. Parents of children aged 8-11 years who came to one of the participating mental health centers were invited to join the program. If the upcoming training session was full, parents and children were assigned to a wait list.There was a final sample size of 224 children – 185 in the intervention group and 39 in the wait list control group. The children’s behavior was measured using a validated checklist completed by parents before and after the intervention was delivered. On average, children in the intervention group showed greater reductions in both aggressive and withdrawn behaviors than the control group. The greatest improvements were seen in children with clinically diagnosed internalizing problems, suggesting that the intervention may be most useful for this group.Pros and cons of the studyThe study was conducted in a real-world setting and consisted of the routine delivery of a program that is already widely implemented. This makes the findings more applicable to community settings. However, the dropout rate between pretest and posttest was relatively high: 64% of those who completed a pretest questionnaire also filled in a posttest questionnaire. Children with more severe behavior problems were more likely to drop out, but the researchers weren’t able to explain why.Another issue is that the evaluation did not measure fidelity of implementation. We know that the ten sessions of the intervention were delivered by trained psychologists but we do not know how closely the sessions resembled the original model of delivery. The study also consists of only one source of information about the children’s behavior change, the parents and not the children, their peers or the teacher. This is problematic as parents are likely to report favorable results to please the trainer. Also, the parents were part of the intervention themselves, so they may have learned to view their child’s behavior more positively even if the behavior didn’t change.Future researchThe results from this first evaluation of TIGER are promising but further research is necessary in order uncover the longer-term effects of the program. The control group received the intervention shortly after the study was completed so it is impossible to identify whether it has a lasting impact on this vulnerable group of children. Also, more in-depth work is needed to understand the mechanisms of change at play that make this intervention work. Which of the many elements of the program result in behavior change, and why?*************ReferenceVliek, L., Overbeek, G., & Orobio de Castro, B. (2013). “I want to behave prosocially and I can choose to do so”: Effectiveness of TIGER (Kanjertraining) in 8- to 11-year-olds. European Journal of Developmental Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/.2013.811405

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