Adolescent Onset Antisocial Behaviour, Life Course Persistent Antisocial Behaviour, and Gender

The Dunedin longitudinal studies, performed in the 1970s, were some of the most notable works of research on child antisocial behaviour. Since then, a wealth of research has been based on the original work. Some of this included examining factors such as fathers, the serotonin 5-HTTLPR transporter gene, and television in the lives of children and adolescence with antisocial behaviour problems. Moffitt and Caspi (2001), however, went a different route in their paper “Childhood Predictors Differentiate Life-Course Persistent and Adolescence-Limited Antisocial Pathways Among Males and Females”.

Potential Factors Behind Life History Strategies

The Moffitt and Caspi paper used a wealth of research to examine several factors. First, they looked at the idea that child onset antisocial behaviour (CO) is associated with inadequate parenting, neurocognitive difficulties, and poor behaviour control while life-course persistent antisocial behaviour (LCP) originated in childhood and was heightened by a poor environment. This appears with other theories and findings presented in our textbook.

Differential risk factors in the LCP path, as well as the adolescence-limited antisocial path (AL), were also examined. They believed that LCP behaviour was associated with:

  • Weak family bonds
  • Early school leaving
  • Psychopathic personality traits
  • Violent convictions

AL individuals, however, were associated with:

  • Unconventional values
  • Social potency personality traits
  • Nonviolent offences

Lastly, they examined gender differences in the two groups.

So Many Questions About the Moffitt and Caspi Study

There were a few issues I questioned in the Moffitt and Caspi paper, however. For example, they often identify links such as the fact that AL females were generally better readers, less hyperactive, etc. than AO males. This was immediately chalked up to sex difference, but is it really? Or, was this the result of individual behaviour differences? I also question the fact that they immediately looked for specific measures from the Rutter Child Scales without questioning the validity of that. So, for example, if they’re looking specifically to prove inadequate parenting, neurocognitive problems, etc. are the cause of CO antisocial behaviour, it’s much easier to find proof of that, which is often referred to as confirmation bias (sharp-shooter fallacy).

Lastly, they accepted much of the original theory that sees AL as merely a dysphoria with the transition between childhood and adulthood. It also viewed gender differences in crime as merely sex differences (girls are less likely to encounter the causal factors for LCP antisocial behaviour, are more physically vulnerable and less likely to risk their safety, for example). I’m uncomfortable with this for a few reasons.

Again, there seems to be a “cause-effect-cause” conundrum. Have they really proved that females are less likely to have inadequate parenting, for example? Or, is it because the individuals tested were generally less antisocial early on, and therefore, had better parenting as a result? Someone who believes that women are scared to risk their safety have clearly never talked to those in a women’s prison or spent time speaking to those in the sex trade. It feels counterintuitive and outdated to me. Combined with the highly inadequate sample size, and I would want to see a substantial amount of future research before I would feel comfortable jumping to the conclusions Moffitt and Caspi jumped to in this paper. It is, however, an excellent starting point.

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