Forensic Psychology

Causes of Antisocial Traits

What role does gender play in antisocial traits?

One obvious fact about criminal statistics is that criminals are predominantly male. In a 2001 study by Cathy Widom and Michael Maxfield, there was a 2.5–1 male to female ratio for any arrest among a sample of 667 young adults. For violent crime, the male to female ratio increased to 6.7–1. In FBI statistics for 1998, women accounted for 22 percent of all arrests, 8 percent of convicted violent felons, 23 percent of property felons, and 17 percent of drug felons. Moreover, when female criminal behavior does occur, it is often in the company of a male.

Finally, female antisocial behavior may be more strongly linked to trauma and abuse. For example, in a Widom and Maxfield’s study, abused women were 227 percent more likely to commit a violent crime than non-abused women, while the rate of violent crime only increased by 17 percent for abused men vs. non-abused men. We cannot know the extent to which this gender difference is due to cultural or biological influences. Given the predominance of male criminals across history and cultures, however, it is likely there is a strong biological component, possibly involving male hormones such as testosterone.


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