There has been little acceptance of a taxonomy of antisocial behavior for adolescents despite many years of study (Moffitt, 1993). Reasons for this lack
of an accepted taxonomic approach include: (1) antisocial behaviors range from relatively mild, such as cutting classes, to severe, such as assault with a deadly weapon, yet they are often considered together; (2) some studies have focused on the acts themselves, separately classifying types of theft and drug/alcohol use, while others have focused on the person, such as violent types and runaways; and (3) diverse methods have used self-report versus the ratings of others (e.g., parents), behaviors of incarcerated delinquents as compared with antisocial behaviors in the general population, lists of behaviors with few versus many items, and samples that combine rather than separate males and females.
Research that has attempted to classify adolescent antisocial behavior in terms of logical similarity, as well as research that has focused on the individual's behavior patterns, can be used to illustrate the problems with both approaches. For example, Pfefferbaum and Wood (1994) examined three kinds of delinquency in a sample of 296 college students: interpersonal delinquency, which included serious fights and using a weapon; property delinquency, which included theft, such as stealing a car; and substance delinquency, which included drinking alcohol and using drugs. These three categories were correlated with measures of thrill-seeking, self-control, socialization, and school success. Correlations between the three classes of delinquent behaviors were found to be low to moderate: substance delinquency and property delinquency, .256; substance delinquency and interpersonal delinquency, .279; property delinquency and interpersonal delinquency, .640. Further, multiple regression analysis, with the three forms of delinquency as dependent variables, showed only one consistent predictor; namely, males showed higher scores. Otherwise, the predictors varied for each of the dependent variables.
Pfefferbaum and Wood's (1994) finding of low to moderate correlations between logically grouped classes of delinquent behavior, and differing motivations for each, provided two reasons to separate the forms of delinquency when investigating social and personality correlates. However, there may have been problems with their classification system. It was possible that stealing and drug sales shared a functional relationship, or that drug use and drug sales were unrelated because they did not share the same motivational basis. Thus, uncovering related clusters of antisocial behaviors would set the stage for an empirically based examination of personality and social correlates.
A contrasting approach has viewed antisocial behavior as unidimensional. In a study by Simons, Robertson, and Downs (1989), scores for widely varying behaviors, such as cutting classes, assault with a deadly weapon, and drug sales, were combined and then correlated with social and personality variables. If antisocial behavior is truly a unidimensional construct, then combining these behaviors was warranted, whereas if it is multidimensional, then such combination may have masked important differential associations with social and personality dimensions.
Research has also attempted to focus primarily on the individual and secondarily on the nature of the behavior itself. Moffitt (1993), taking a developmental perspective, identified two kinds of antisocial individuals: life-course-persistent offenders and adolescence-limited offenders. Life-course-persistent offenders begin engaging in antisocial acts before adolescence. In sharp contrast, adolescence-limited offenders start during adolescence and generally engage in vandalism, substance abuse, status offenses (e.g., running away from home), and theft. While the life-course-persistent offenders also engage in such behaviors, they are prone to commit more serious victim-oriented offenses. …