Forensic Psychology

Causes of Antisocial Traits

Does child abuse cause antisocial traits?

There is considerable evidence that a history of child abuse increases the likelihood of criminal activity in adolescence and adulthood. In their 2001 study, Cathy Widom and Michael Maxfield examined the arrest records of 1,575 individuals, including 908 individuals with documented histories of child abuse or neglect and 667 non-abused controls who were matched to the first group for age, sex, race, and family socioeconomic status. All abuse cases occurred between 1967 and 1971 when the children were eleven years of age or younger. By 1994, 27.4 percent of the abused/neglected group had arrests as a juvenile compared to 17.2 percent of the non-abused group. In addition, 41.6 percent had arrests as adults compared to 32.5 percent of the non-abused group, and 18.1 percent had been arrested for a violent crime vs. 13.9 percent of the non-abused group. Thus, abused children were about 60 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and 30 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult than non-abused children.


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