How does anti-social behavior during Childhood shape the Adult life

Published on October 25, 2012

Lonely swing

“Hate is as injurious to the subject of hate as it is to the object of hate.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This statement made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been one of my lifelong favorites. It goes past the typical non-violence quote by concentrating on how violent thoughts affect those who entertain them. In that vein, I would like to discuss this topic in the context of a paper published in the Australian Journal of Psychology titled “Antisocial behaviour across the life course: An examination of the effects of early onset desistence and early onset persistent antisocial behaviour in childhood.”1 Of course, I am not suggesting that all antisocial behavior is defined by hate, but that hate is antisocial. I will discuss the paper in that context.

The authors work from the premise that “Empirical evidence suggests that there is a link between an individual engaging in antisocial behaviour as a child or adolescent and a range of negative outcomes in adulthood.” Specifically, they point out that previous research has shown a correlation between early-life antisocial behavior and later-life relationship quality, education level, employability and mental illness.

Over 3,000 subjects, all twenty-one years of age were queried for the study. They were evaluated in several areas, a few of which we will discuss. First, the subjects were identified by four major typologies—non-antisocial, childhood limited, adolescence onset, and life course persistent. Then their responses to questions in several areas were compared between groups. Let’s take a look at some of the more significant findings below.

1. General Health: The subjects were presented with questions about their personal history of “diabetes, hypertension, eczema, asthma, depression, anxiety disorder, autism, schizophrenia, migraine, tension headache, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, liver disease, gall bladder disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.”

2. Education Level: The authors argue that “research has shown that children who have early onset of behavioural and psychiatry problems are more likely to become teenage parents…Additional research has found that the children of these teenage parents are also more likely to have childhood and adolescent behavioural problems…lower scores on tests of cognitive ability.. and are at greatest risk of delinquency and criminality”

3. Employment Status: The Life Course Persistent subjects were found more likely to be without a wage-earning job than all of the other categories. This was even after adjusting for confounding factors, which when performed with other groups’ statistics resulted in a statistically insignificant outcome.

4. Relationship Discomfort: The subjects responded to questions that allowed them to express their opinion with choices such as “I prefer to depend on myself rather than other people; I prefer to keep to myself; and I find it hard to trust other people.” Women seemed to predominate this statistic.

5. Marital Status: While some things stood out, such as certain typologies were more likely to marry as teenagers, the study found that “Across all typology groups, a lower proportion of males were married at 21 years compared to females…”

6. Anxiety-Depression: Although there was an association between typologies, the results showed “more females than males had high levels of anxiety/ depression at age twenty-one.” From a medical perspective, one of the reasons that women at increased risk over men for depression is related to the hormone-intensive physiology of women.

Said differently, we know from biochemistry studies that hormone imbalances contribute to depressive symptoms, and women simply have more hormonal changes happening in their bodies than men. Additionally, although more research is needed, the World Health Organization reported “Depression is not only the most common women's mental health problem but may be more persistent in women than men.”2

That said, there is also a gender bias in the reporting and treatment of depression. The World Health Organization posts on its website, “Gender bias occurs in the treatment of psychological disorders. Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms.”2

While I will not discuss all of the assessed areas in detail, the authors state that “overwhelmingly, the worst outcomes were evident among those who had antisocial behaviour in both childhood and adolescence…, and those whose antisocial behaviour appeared to begin in adolescence….. The strongest effects were seen for the number of health problem diagnoses, failure to complete schooling, having no paid employment-- [life course persistent] only, and anxiety and depression.”

I appreciate the authors’ effort to break down the results by gender in addition to typology and interestingly, the World Health Organization reports “Men are also more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder than women.” We would all benefit if an ambitious Ph.D candidate chose that statement as a thesis for their research.

If you are related to this article by experience or interest, I invite you to comment. Until next time…KEEP THINKING!



1 McGee, Tara Renae, et al. “Antisocial behaviour across the life course: An examination of the effects of early onset desistence and early onset persistent antisocial behaviour in childhood.”  Australian Journal of Psychology 2011; 63:44-55

2  Accessed August 2, 2012

Category(s):Adult psychological development, Antisocial personality, Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Depression

Written by:

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a former U.S. Army (Reserve) Medical Officer, and currently completing his studies as an M.D./PhD/MBA candidate, with a research thesis titled, “Pharmacology and the Neurological Correlates of Consciousness.”