Forensic Psychology

Causes of Antisocial Traits

What social factors contribute to the development of antisocial behavior?

The relationship between individual and social risk factors is critically important. Poverty, poor education, inadequate community institutions, lack of appropriate social support systems, antisocial peers, and dangerous and violent neighborhoods can all have a devastating effect on an adolescent’s social and psychological development. Together, these factors greatly raise the risk of the child growing up to engage in criminal behavior.

In a 2002 study, Magda Stouthamer-Loeber and colleagues examined risk and protective factors for severe and persistent delinquency over a six-year period in a sample of 871 boys. In particular, they looked at the impact of the general socioeconomic status (SES) of the neighborhood. Neighborhood SES was based on information from the 1990 census, including data on median household income, number of single-parent families, and percentage of families below the poverty line. Neighborhoods were divided into four groups: high, medium, and low SES, and low SES with the majority of residents in public housing. In the boys aged thirteen to nineteen there was a clear relationship between neighborhood SES and criminal behavior. The results showed that 17.7 percent of the high SES group, 32.4 percent of the medium SES group, 41.7 percent of the low SES group, and 69.4 percent of the low SES/public housing group engaged in serious delinquent behavior. In other words, boys from the lowest SES neighborhood were almost four times more likely to engage in serious delinquent behavior than boys from the highest SES neighborhood.


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