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Sex differences in antisocial behavior (part 3)

Antisocial behavior is behavior that harms others or infringes on their rights. Sociopaths are antisocial in that this behavior has become a lifestyle for them. Although some might say that this lifestyle is “learned” volumes of research show that genes determine who learns this lifestyle. Furthermore, the learning begins in childhood and adolescence. In the last few weeks we have been discussing some of the findings of researchers who followed over 1000 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. This week we will see how they answered the following questions:

1. Are men more violent than women?
2. Is antisocial behavior stable in individuals over time?
3. Is the degree of stability the same for males and females?
4. What is the age of onset of delinquency and conduct disorder in males and females?

Are men more violent than women?

Females have been demonstrated in many studies to be less violent than males. This sex difference has been interpreted to mean that women differ fundamentally from men by lacking the underlying motivation or capacity for violence. What does the Dunedin data show? Males scored significantly higher than females on almost every measure of physically aggressive violent behavior. This was true for every age through age 21. By age 21 males were significantly more likely to have been convicted of a violent offence by an odds ratio of nearly 5:1.

The one exception

The one exception to the “men are more violent” rule is intimate partner or family violence. Women may be even more violent than men in this context. The reason is that the need to control and strive for dominance is present in both men and women. The family context brings out this need in women.

Sex and the developmental stability of antisocial behavior (ASB)

Even in the 1970s during the heyday of ‘situationism’ in psychology, behavioral scientists acknowledged that individual differences of ASB are stable. Some people are more antisocial than others, this tendency starts during development and continues.

Stability of antisocial behavior rank in Dunedin study males and females

One way to look at ASB is to rank members of a group in terms of how much they show. Some people are disinclined and others are inclined. Different data sources- including parents, teachers, peers and self-ratings in the Dunedin study suggest that the ASB of males and females is predictable across time. Over the first two decades of life, relative to same-sex peers, antisocial boys and girls are equally likely to retain their rank in their groups.

Stability of conduct disorder

Another way to look at ASB is to create a disorder out of it and group the haves and the have-nots. Although antisocial girls retain their rank across time relative to their sex, girls are less likely than boys to sustain over time behavior that is extreme enough to warrant a diagnosis. Males and females are not equally likely to retain a diagnosis of conduct disorder overtime. When the same diagnostic criteria are applied males show more continuity of disorder than females. About 50% of the males who were diagnosed with conduct disorder showed stability, half showed remission. In contrast only 16% of females showed stability of disorder. Conduct disorder is early antisocial personality.

Since rank is stable and diagnosis is not as stable. Rank is a more sensitive indicator of a person than is whether or not some artificial cut-off is met.

Sex and the Age of Onset of Delinquency and Conduct Disorder

Estimates of the age at which ASB begins vary according to data source. Onset measured by conviction will lag 3 to 5 years behind onset measured by self report. Self –report data reveal that adult onset of ASB after adolescence is relatively rare. (That doesn’t mean though that the ASB present during the teen years is always apparent to everyone else- consider Bernard Madoff and Dennis Rader; both are very antisocial but were not arrested until age 70 and 60.) At every age, more males than females are beginning theft and violence.

Age of onset

Among young people who do begin antisocial behavior before adulthood, age of onset is markedly similar between the sexes. Males and females onset within 6 months of each other, 12-14 years of age is usual for both.

Next week

Next week -what are the personality traits that link to a life pattern of antisocial behavior in males and females? When do the traits show up and how do they change over time?



15 Comments on "Sex differences in antisocial behavior (part 3)"

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  1. learnthelesson says:

    GR8FUL70x7,

    Dont forget about adoption… 🙂

    I am gr8ful for your post. I am a supporter of learned and environmental …as well as genetics…

    Yes, I believe all things are possible. Its just not one or the other. And a great deal of time its both.

    Also re your comment : “it’s called “regression toward the mean” and it is the long observed tendency for the offspring of extremes to revert, for lack of a better word, to normalcy” … found this most interesting thus far.

    What is your website and blog? Is it your screenname?



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  2. Jen2008 says:

    GR8 said: “the Sociopath does not think that he is as bad, as low or as disconnected from the rest of humanity as the Sociopath regards the Psychopath. In other words, the Sociopath recognizes differences between himself & his kind and the Psychopath whom he regards are far more deviant and far less human that himself. In turn, the Sociopath fears the Psychopath. “Those people are REALLY crazy!”

    I followed several socio/psycho blogs and forums for a very long time and I found the socios, in their discussions, to have the EXACT attitude you described above. There was undiagnosed people on them, plus diagnosed socios and psychopaths, including the dissocials as they are sometimes called (in Europe, I think?)

    If you followed them long enough they often talked about some rather interesting subjects and feelings and attitudes. I learned a heckuva lot from them. Long before I learned from people like Sandra Brown to do the unemotional (act like you’ve had a lobotomy) thing, I learned it from reading the boards. I highly recommend finding a few blogs/forums and following them, or even asking questions of them, as long as you can take the insults that will be mixed in with the rare gem of useful information and if you can refrain from going all EMO and annoying them or trying to convert them to your way of thinking.



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  3. Jen2008 says:

    The main thing I learned is that (and I am talking of the diagnosed ones here) they are NOT all motivated by the same things, that they all had different likes and dislikes, and different things they wanted to accomplish. They were NOT all financial cons–some of them had NO interest whatsoever in that. Nor did all of them deliberately go around trying to hurt people, some of them actually tried not to hurt people, even though their lack of feelings (thus their actions) sometimes resulted in that. But some of them actually seemed to be trying really hard to fit into society and have a “normal” life by “our standards” although it did not come naturally to them. Most of them said they liked how they were, but at the same time they seemed like a fish out of water struggling to get by in life like the rest of us with as few problems as possible. But then, on the other hand, some of them got off on hurting people.

    And the most chilling thing of all is that although some of them had no interest whatsoever in things like murder, and the ones that did usually made it clear they had no plans to ever ACT on it (because like everyone else they didn’t want to end up in jail), but nevertheless they fantasized about it alot. Like for example, when say talking to a neighbor about their lovely rose garden they might also be wondering at the same time what it would be like to fillet the neighbor.

    Also, for the people on this board who are in romantic relationships, it might be of interest to know that some of them did enjoy working really hard at getting the ex back in their lives, so they could build them up again, then have the fun of breaking them back down again. But some of them didn’t try to deliberately hurt their romantic partners.

    Although I know this probably is not going to be a popular opinion to post, when I think about the genetics and/or environmental factors that resulted in them being the way they are, I feel more sympathy for their impairment that they can’t help they were born with or “made into”. And the s or p, just like normal people, has choices in life and can make bad choices, but for those struggling to not be so bad, I can see where it would be quite difficult for them and a struggle for them to behave as society expects.



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  4. S O S says:

    gr8ful70x7:

    For one, a Sociopath is NOT disordered, and I dare say Sociopaths are amoung the highest ordered amoung us.

    They have few anxieties to spend time mulling over, and our culture often accepts or rewards sociopathic behavior. Within much smaller, less competitive cultures, they might be spotted quickly as being dangerous for the tribe and outcast. Any ‘primitive tribe’ studies out there? The “disordered” part comes from the fact that they will take risks far beyond what would possibly be rewarding for them – the opposite being the “avoidant” disorder, where one prevents potential reward by taking no risks at all.

    And all you genetic biased idiologues, while your bias towards genetic causes over learning & environment are ALMOST AWAYS INCORRECT

    The common wisdom amongst the experts appears to be 50/50, and I agree… …until proven otherwise.

    Sociopath differentiates himself from the “Psychopath”

    Where? In interviews and tests? Personal experience or opinion?

    SOS, it’s called “regression toward the mean

    In statistics? Or genetics? I’m interested in the opposite. What is it called when the overall genetics within a social species diversifies for advantage? Or further, why did Cro-Magnon surpass Neanderthal?



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  5. S O S says:

    It is more truthful to claim behavior and learning control genes.

    Plasticity. Very interesting. Using software to rewire the hardware? To what degree is this possible in adulthood? Where does one learn more? (But as for the children, still 50/50 nature/nurture, ‘cept in the most extreme cases, until proven otherwise.)

    And as an added bonus: I did a little homework. The human evolutionary part of my theory doesn’t jive with a strict biblical creationist perspective, although I believe the spiritual/materialist part will. The whole thing does work with ID, however.



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  6. S O S says:

    Double bonus: Ever since Liane introduced me to “low moral reasoning ability” (yeah, I know, I’m late to the party) I’ve pondered things similar.

    The five people in my family who are least sympathetic to my SS-PTSD situation (out of the 20 or so adults), have all held their same jobs for over 20 years without serious incident. The other 15 are much more understanding and forgiving. Obviously, the five aren’t understanding of what they themselves haven’t experienced. Is this an example of a situational, ‘unexercised’ reasoning deficit? To what degree is genetics involved?

    Yes, I am the curious one.



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