Early Predictors of Adolescent Aggression and Adult Violence

By Farrington, David P. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1989 | Go to article overview

Early Predictors of Adolescent Aggression and Adult Violence


Farrington, David P., Violence and Victims


The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development is a prospective longitudinal survey of 411 London males from ages 8 years old to 32 years old. This article investigates the prediction of adolescent aggression (ages 12-14 years old), teenage violence (ages 16-18 years old), adult violence (age 32 years old), and convictions for violence. Generally, the best predictors were measures of economic deprivation, family criminality, poor child-rearing, school failure, hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention deficit, and antisocial child behavior. Similar predictors applied to all four measures of aggression and violence. It is concluded that aggression and violence are elements of a more general antisocial tendency, and that the predictors of aggression and violence are similar to the predictors of antisocial and criminal behavior in general.

INTRODUCTION

This article is concerned with the prediction of aggression and violence in general population samples of males. It is not concerned with the clinical prediction of violence or "dangerousness" in mentally abnormal offenders (e.g., Klassen & O'Connor, 1988; Monahan, 1981, 1984), nor with the prediction of future violence by officially identified or incarcerated offenders (e.g., Jesness, 1987; Piper, 1985). The focus in this article is neither the efficiency of prediction nor the use of predictive information to assist criminal justice decision-making, but rather on the use of predictive analyses in developing explanations of aggression and violence.

Prospective longitudinal research is likely to yield the most valid conclusions about the prediction of aggression and violence (Farrington, 1982). Consequently, cross-sectional or retrospective studies will not be reviewed here (e.g., Fagan 8c Wexler, 1987; Kruttschnitt, Heath, & Ward, 1986; Olweus, 1980; Yates, Beutler, 8c Crago, 1983). The most relevant longitudinal projects are those that follow several hundred people over the long time period from childhood to adulthood, notably the 22-year follow-up of New York state children by Eron and Huesmann (1984) and the 40-year follow-up of Massachusetts boys by McCord (1988).

This article reports results obtained in a 24-year follow-up study of 411 London males from ages 8 years old to 32 years old.1 In some respects, the paper represents a continuation of previous work by Farrington and West (1971), Farrington (1978), and Farrington, Berkowitz, and West (1982). Farrington and West (1971) showed that self-reported violence at age 14 was predicted by low family income, large family size, poor parental supervision, low intelligence and attainment, and troublesome and daring behavior at ages 8-10, and Farrington et al. (1982) reported that the "aggressive frequent group fighters" at age 18 were predicted by the same variables. Farrington (1978) found that self-reported violence at ages 16 18 and convictions for violence up to age 21 were predicted by low family income, large family size, low intelligence and attainment, parental criminality, harsh parental discipline, poor parental supervision, and aggressive and daring behavior at ages 8-14.

Many of these results have been replicated elsewhere. As an example, Farring-ton (1978) found that teacher-rated aggression at age 8 predicted self-reported violence at age 18; and the extensive review by Olweus (1979) shows that numerous other researchers have also demonstrated that aggression at one age predicts aggression at another. In 16 surveys covering periods of up to 21 years, the average stability coefficient (correlation) for male aggression was .68. Furthermore, this average stability coefficient decreased linearly with the time interval, according to the following equation:

y=.78-.018x

(where y = stability coefficient and x = time interval in years). Olweus (1979) concluded that there were relatively stable aggressive reaction tendencies within individuals.

Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz, and Walder (1984) showed that peer-rated aggression at age 8 significantly predicted self-reported aggression at age 30 for males, and similar results were reported by Eron and Huesmann (1984) and Eron, Huesmann, Dubow, Romanoff, and Yarmel (1987).

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