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 -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?