Impulsivity and Offending from Childhood to Young Adulthood in the United States: A Developmental Trajectory Analysis

By Higgins, George E.; Kirchner, EmmaLeigh E. et al. | International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, July-December 2013 | Go to article overview

Impulsivity and Offending from Childhood to Young Adulthood in the United States: A Developmental Trajectory Analysis


Higgins, George E., Kirchner, EmmaLeigh E., Ricketts, Melissa L., Marcum, Catherine D., International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences


Introduction

Criminologist study many different personality traits which could lead to later crime and delinquency. Researchers in psychology and clinical research focus on impulsivity as its own independent construct rather than part of a larger construct or idea (Rogers, Moeller, Swann, & Clark, 2010; Fischer, Smith, & Cyders, 2008; Miller, Campbell, Young, Lakey, Reidy, Zeichner, & Goodie, 2009; Whiteside & Lynam, 2001; Whiteside, Lynam, Miller, & Reynolds, 2005) for instance as a part of a scale to determine self control levels (Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, & Arneklev, 1993). While this is a component of self control, impulsivity can be studied as its own characteristic which could develop later offending among adolescents. Moffitt (1993) argues impulsivity is one of the major characteristics which maintain antisocial behavior (including offending). Impulsivity is defined as the lack of ability to clearly think out ones actions before performing them (Hinslie & Shatzky, 1940). Impulsivity has been shown to reveal many fundamental cognitive, emotional and neurological problems among children (Barratt, 1965; Evenden, 1999; Moeller, Barratt, Dougherty, Schmitz, & Swann, 2001; Patton, Stanford, & Barratt, 1995; Rogers et. al, 2010) that have led to behavioral problems and later problems in adulthood including substance abuse (Verdejo-Garcia, Lawerence, & Clark, 2008), pathological gambling (Blanco, Potenza, Kim, Ibanez, Zaninelli, Saiz-Ruiz, & Grant, 2009) and violent behavior (Komarovskaya, Loper, & Warren, 2007; Smith, Waterman, & Ward, 2007).

The purpose of the present study is to contribute to our understanding by exploring the intersection between impulsivity and offending trajectories to address Moffitt's (1993) Developmental Taxonomy. The previous research on impulsivity and offending takes one of three forms. First, researchers have assumed that impulsivity remains stable and did not examine multiple points in time of impulsivity to capture changes in the trait (Caspi, 2000; Caspi, Henry, McGee, Moffitt & Silva, 1995; Masse & Tremblay, 1997). Second, when researchers have examined the changes that have occurred in impulsivity, they have used classification schemes to achieve this purpose (Caspi & Roberts, 1999). These two methods are flawed because either they do not acknowledge change in impulsivity or they impose a false form of classifying individuals into groups. Cote, Tremblay, Nagin, Zoccolillo, and Vitaro (2002) addressed this issue by using a statistical process that allowed them to show that groups of impulsivity and offending are possible for males and females. Our purpose is to add to this knowledge base by using an American national probability sample of individuals. In addition, we make use of impulsivity theory and Moffitt's (1993, 2003) developmental taxonomy as frameworks for understanding our results. To our knowledge, no research of this sort exists that is devoid of parts of hyperactivity. Thus, our study is unique to the impulsivity and offending literatures.

To accomplish the purpose of the present study, we discuss several topics. The study first introduces the construct of impulsivity. From there a review of the relevant literature on impulsivity is presented. This is followed by an introduction of Moffitt's Developmental Taxonomy of offending. We then present our research questions. Next, we present the methods of the current study and the analysis of our research as well as its results and implications.

Impulsivity

Personality-based researchers have used personality traits to predict and explain crime (Vazsonyi, Cleveland, & Wiebe, 2006). Within this field of research, many different terms are used for the inability to delay gratification, have poor confidence control, or having high instances of negative emotionality. Some of these terms include: weak constraints (Caspi, Moffitt, Silva, Stouthamer-Loeber, Krueger, & Schmutte, 1994), low self-control (Pulkkinen, 1982, 1986; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990), sensation seeking (Zuckerman, 1994; Zuckerman, Bone, Neary, Magelsdorff, & Brustman, 1972) or impulsivity (Eysenck, 1977; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985), all of which have shown a direct link to later offending among those who have the trait at a young age. …

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