This paper describes how automatic behavior can drive disparities in youth outcomes like delinquency and dropout. People often respond to situations without conscious deliberation. While generally adaptive, these automatic responses are sometimes deployed in situations where they are ill-suited. Although this is equally true for all youths, disadvantaged youths face greater situational variability. This increases the likelihood that automaticity will lead to negative outcomes. This hypothesis suggests that interventions that reduce automaticity can lead to positive outcomes for disadvantaged youths.
This study tests this hypothesis by presenting the results of three large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of interventions carried out on the south and west sides of Chicago that seek to improve the outcomes of low-income youth by teaching them to be less automatic.
Two of the RCTs test a program called Becoming a Man (BAM) developed by Chicago-area non-profit Youth Guidance; the first, carried out in 2009-10, shows participation improved schooling outcomes and reduced violent-crime arrests by 44%, while the second RCT in 2013-14 showed participation reduced overall arrests by 31%.
The third RCT was carried out in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) in 2009-11 and shows reductions in return rates of 22%.
The study also presents results from various survey measures suggesting the results do not appear to be due to changes in mechanisms like emotional intelligence or self-control. On the other hand results from some decision-making exercises carried out seem to support reduced automaticity as a key mechanism.