Antisocial Behavior

Antisocial behavior refers to disruptive acts that are characterized by covert as well as overt hostility and intentional aggression toward others. Antisocial behaviors include repeated violations of social rules, defiance of authority as well as the rights of others, theft, deceitfulness and reckless disregard for oneself and others. Antisocial behavior can be identified as early as at the age of 3 to 4, and if these coercive behavior patterns are left unchecked they will escalate until they become a chronic behavioral disorder.

Overt antisocial behavior involves aggressive actions against siblings, peers, parents, teachers, or other adults, including verbal abuse, bullying and hitting. Covert antisocial behavior may involve aggressive actions against property, including theft, fire-setting, and vandalism. In early childhood, covert antisocial behaviors may include sneaking, noncompliance, lying, or secret actions to destroy someone else's property. Antisocial behaviors also include alcohol and drug abuse as well as high-risk activities.

Antisocial behavior problems are among the most common forms of psychopathology and account for half of all childhood mental health referrals. Pre-adolescent boys are more likely to engage in overtly aggressive antisocial behaviors than girls. While boys display more verbal and physical aggression, antisocial behavior in girls involves harmful social manipulation of others, being more indirect and relational.

Antisocial behaviors may manifest early or have a late onset and be identified in middle or late adolescence. According to some research, antisocial behaviors are more likely to have a late onset among girls than among boys. Antisocial behaviors that appear later in life are less persistent and more likely to be discarded as a behavioral strategy than those that have an early onset.

Coercive social interactions within the family, the educational environment, and community contribute to the development of such behavioral disorders. They are also affected by a child's temperament and irritability, cognitive ability, exposure to violence, level of involvement with deviant peers, and deficit of cooperative problem-solving skills. Antisocial behavior is often accompanied by behavioral and development problems, including hyperactivity, learning disabilities and depression. There are numerous risk factors for the development of persistent antisocial behaviors. These factors include genetic, neurobiological and environmental stressors, which begin at the prenatal stage and often continue throughout childhood.

Genetic factors are believed to contribute significantly to the development of antisocial behaviors. These include abnormalities in the structure of the prefrontal cortex of the brain and may contribute to an inherited predisposition to antisocial behaviors. Neurobiological risks include drug use by the mother during pregnancy, birth complications, low birth weight, prenatal brain damage, traumatic head injury and chronic illness.

High-risk factors in the family environment include parental history of antisocial behaviors as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Chaotic and unstable home life, absence of good parenting skills, and use of coercive and corporal punishment can also contribute to the development of such disorders. Disruption due to parental divorce, death, or other separation, parental psychiatric disorders, and economic distress because of unemployment and poverty are also high-risk factors.

Heavy exposure to media violence through television, movies, video games, and Internet sites has long been thought to make children more likely to behave aggressively. However, findings from research of the relationship between the use of violent video games and antisocial behavior show both increased and decreased aggression.

The basic requirements for successful intervention and treatment of antisocial behavior among children include better parent-teacher communications and school psychologists and counselors trained in family intervention who are available within the school setting. Low-risk students benefit from school-based programs that teach conflict resolution, emotional literacy, and anger management skills. Individualized prevention efforts, such as counseling, social-skills training, academic support, and behavior contracting, will help students who may be at higher risk due to difficult family and environmental circumstances.

Family dynamics that lead to antisocial behavior in children can be changed through access to written and video information on parenting skills and about community family resources as well as promotion of parent-support groups. Intensive individualized services, including community mental health agencies and other outside intervention, can help older students who display a persistent antisocial behavior pattern.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Early Prevention of Adult Antisocial Behaviour
David P. Farrington; Jeremy W. Coid.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Antisocial Behavior and Mental Health Problems: Explanatory Factors in Childhood and Adolescence
Rolf Loeber; David P. Farrington; Magda Stouthamer-Loeber; Welmoet B. Van Kammen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Antisocial Personality Disorder: A Practitioner's Guide to Comparative Treatments
Frederick Rotgers; Michael Maniacci Psyd.
Springer, 2006
Antisocial Behavior and Depressive Symptoms: Longitudinal and Concurrent Relations
Vieno, Alessio; Kiesner, Jeff; Pastore, Massimiliano; Santinello, Massimo.
Adolescence, Vol. 43, No. 171, Fall 2008
Behavioral Genetics: The Science of Antisocial Behavior
Baker, Laura A.; Bezdjian, Serena; Raine, Adrian.
Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 69, No. 1-2, Spring 2006
Aggression and Violence: Genetic, Neurobiological, and Biosocial Perspectives
David M. Stoff; Robert B. Cairns.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Family and Genetic Epidemiology of Aggressve and Antisocial Behavior" and Chap. 14 "The Patterns of Antisocial Behavior and Autonomic Reactivity"
Addressing Antisocial Behavior in the Schools: A Call for Action
Lane, Kathleen Lynne; Wehby, Joseph.
Academic Exchange Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2, Summer 2002
Inhibition of Antisocial Behavior and Eysenck's Theory of Conscience
Jackson, Nora Mary; Center, David B.
Education & Treatment of Children, Vol. 25, No. 4, November 2002
The Effect of Corporal Punishment on Antisocial Behavior in Children
Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew.
Social Work Research, Vol. 28, No. 3, September 2004
Gender Differences in the Developmental Trajectories, Risk Factors and Outcomes of Antisocial Behaviors
Jordan, Gerald.
Gender & Behaviour, Vol. 9, No. 1, June 2011
Conduct and Oppositional Defiant Disorders: Epidemiology, Risk Factors, and Treatment
Cecilia A. Essau.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Social Ecology of Community and Neighborhood and Risk for Antisocial Behavior" and Chap. 12 "Multisystemic Treatment of Serious Antisocial Behavior in Adolescents"
Environmental Health and Antisocial Behavior: Implications for Public Policy
Preston, Benjamin L.; Warren, Rueben C.; Wooten, Sharon M.; Gragg, Richard D.; Walker, Bailus.
Journal of Environmental Health, Vol. 63, No. 9, May 2001
Distancing: Avoidant Personality Disorder
Martin Kantor.
Praeger, 2003
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