Antisocial behavior in adolescence : the role of individual characteristics

Abstract: The main aim of this dissertation is to investigate whether traits on the level of the individual are important in understanding violent, frequent antisocial behavior among adolescents. The first of the four studies included in this dissertation asks whether individual-level explanations are going to be a fruitful approach at all. The other three studies speak to the question which particular individual characteristics are related to violent, frequent antisocial behavior. Two different large samples of 14 to 16-year-old male and female non-referred adolescents were assessed. The adolescents were mainly assessed with self-report questionnaires but information from parents and teachers was also incorporated in one of the samples. Results show that aggressive, antisocial behavior for a subgroup of adolescents cuts across social contexts, indicating that their aggressive behavior is largely dependent on individual characteristics, more than on situational factors. It is further shown that a constellation of personality traits involving a grandiose, manipulative interpersonal disposition, callous, unemotional affective traits, and an impulsive, irresponsible behavioral style, characterizes a subgroup of antisocial adolescents who have more violent, frequent antisocial behavior than antisocial adolescents without this personality constellation. This same subgroup also shows more pronounced problem behaviors of other kinds — early behavioral problems, problems with inhibiting aggressive behaviors, and problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention. Moreover, the results show that the affective facet of this particular personality constellation, involving callous, unemotional traits, plays an important role in violent, frequent antisocial behavior independently of other antisocial-related dimensions such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and sensation seeking traits. Importantly, the main findings were similar for males and females. It is concluded that specific personality traits are important to consider when moving further toward an understanding of violent, frequent antisocial behavior and that research on non-referred, community samples of youths can be particularly helpful for this purpose. Implications for prevention and intervention and directions for future research are discussed.

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