In 1985 the future for "Robert," a 7-year-old boy in Montreal,
Canada, hardly looked auspicious. He came from a lower socioeconomic milieu
and was hyperactive, aggressive, and oppositional. Today, however, at age 29,
he is doing just fine, working in an aeronautics company. He says that he is
glad that he stayed away from trouble.
One reason why Robert has been able to pursue a positive path in life may
be because he participated in an experimental program from age 7 to 9 called
the Montreal Longitudinal Experimental Study. It was launched in 1984 by
Richard Tremblay, Ph.D., chair of child development at the University of
Montreal. The purpose of the project was to see whether an early intervention
to help disruptive boys from a lower socioeconomic background could make a
difference in their lives over the long run.
Tremblay and his colleagues had kindergarten teachers in Montreal fill out
the Social Behavior Questionnaire on boys in their classes who came from lower
socioeconomic backgrounds. The purpose of the questionnaire was to identify
boys who were hyperactive, aggressive, and oppositional—in short,"
disruptive"—and potentially on the fast track to do poorly
in school and get involved in antisocial behavior.
Out of the 900 boys assessed by the teachers, 250 had a score above the
70th percentile and thus were considered disruptive. Tremblay and his
colleagues then enrolled these 250 boys in their study. A total of 181 were
designated as controls; the remaining 69 were offered an experimental
intervention during two school years, from September 1985 to June 1987. The
latter were age 7 when the intervention started.
Those in the intervention group were taught social skills by psychologists
and social workers. During the first year, for example, they learned how to
control their emotions, and during the second year, how to be accepted in a
group and how to help others. The parents of the boys in the intervention
group were also taught how best to respond to them, such as providing positive
reinforcement and nonabusive types of punishment. Their teachers were given
guidance as well in how to deal with the boys.
The researchers then followed the subjects until age 24 to see whether
there was any difference in outcome between the control and intervention
groups. Their findings were reported in the November 2007 British Journal
They found that significantly more boys in the intervention group graduated
from high school than boys in the control group did and that boys in the
intervention group had a marginally (not quite statistically significant)
lower number of criminal offenses. Criminal records were obtained for all 250
subjects as of 2003 and included crimes against persons, property crime,
prostitution, drug and narcotics offenses, and motor-vehicle offenses.
"The results suggest that early preventive intervention for those at
high risk of antisocial behavior is likely to benefit both the individuals
concerned and society," Tremblay and his group concluded.
Although the researchers do not know whether any particular aspect of the
intervention was more effective than others, Rachel Boisjoli, a doctoral
candidate and lead investigator for the study, suspects that improving the
boys' social skills was a key factor. (Tremblay was the senior
Even though the Montreal Longitudinal Experimental Study seems to have
helped Robert and some other boys, it is not a panacea, Tremblay, Boisjoli,
and their colleagues acknowledged in their study report. True, the rate of
high-school graduation for the intervention group was significantly greater
than that for the control group, but it was still only 46 percent. And while
the intervention subjects engaged in somewhat less antisocial behavior than
the controls did, 22 percent still had a criminal record. "It is thus
important to acknowledge that a preventive intervention program, albeit
intensive, multimodel, and long term, has only a limited protective effect
under the conditions of chronic sociofamilial adversity and environmental
risk," the researchers said.
Nonetheless, the intervention "has been implemented in hundreds of
kindergarten classrooms at the request of teachers and school principals in
the province of Quebec," Tremblay said.
In addition, Boisjoli noted, "There is a program used by several
school boards in Quebec since the beginning of the 1990s that was started
after the Montreal Longitudinal Experimental Study, following the positive
results and based on the same and additional social-skills training for kids.
This program is currently being assessed, and articles should come out shortly
about the effects of the program."
The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
An abstract of "Impact and Clinical Significance of a
Preventive Intervention for Disruptive Boys" is posted at<http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/191/5/415>.▪