Are there meaningful etiological differences within antisocial behavior? Results of a meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(2), 163-178

Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, 107D Psychology Building, East Lansing, MI, 48824, United States
Clinical Psychology Review (Impact Factor: 7.18). 03/2009; 29(2):163-178. DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.12.004


There is mounting evidence of etiologically driven distinctions between aggressive (AGG) and non-aggressive rule-breaking (RB) forms of antisocial behavior. To date, however, these differences remain somewhat speculative. The current meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies sought to clarify these distinctions by comparing meta-analytic estimates of genetic, shared environmental, and non-shared environmental influences across AGG and RB to more clearly ascertain whether they evidence differential patterns of genetic and environmental influence. A comprehensive literature search resulted in the collection of 103 twin and adoption studies, of which 15 RB samples and 19 AGG samples were ultimately included in the analyses. Results reveal clear evidence of etiological distinctions between AGG and RB. Namely, AGG appears to be a highly heritable condition (genetic factors account for 65% of the variance), with little role for the shared or common environment, particularly after childhood. By contrast, while genetic influences also contribute to RB (48% of the variance), there is an important role for shared environmental effects as well (18% of the variance). Such findings are indicative of meaningful etiologic distinctions between aggressive and rule-breaking forms of antisocial behavior, and underscore the advantage of differentiating between these behavioral subtypes when studying the causal processes that underlie antisocial behavior.

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Available from: S. Alexandra Burt, May 15, 2015
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    • "Twin and adoption studies provide evidence that externalizing problems are influenced by both heritable and environmental factors (Rhee and Waldman 2002). In a meta-analysis of 103 twin and adoption studies on antisocial behavior, Burt (2009) found that genetic factors account for over half of the total variance in aggressive behavior. The results of these studies underscore the importance of accounting for inherited influences on externalizing problems, and as an advantage of the current study's adoption design, inherited influences can be ascertained independently of environmental influences on children's externalizing problem behavior by measuring birth parent externalizing behavior. "
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    ABSTRACT: Externalizing symptoms, such as aggression, impulsivity, and inattention, represent the most common forms of childhood maladjustment (Campbell et al. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 467-488, 2000). Several dimensions of parenting behavior, including overreactive and warm parenting, have been linked to children's conduct problems. However, the majority of these studies involve biologically-related family members, thereby limiting understanding of the role of genetic and/or environmental underpinnings of parenting on child psychopathology. This study extends previous research by exploring associations between overreactive and warm parenting during toddlerhood and school-age externalizing problems, as well as the potential moderating effects of child effortful control (EC) on such associations using a longitudinal adoption design. The sample consisted of 225 adoption-linked families (adoptive parents, adopted child [124 male and 101 female] and birth parent[s]), thereby allowing for a more precise estimate of environmental influences on the association between parenting and child externalizing problems. Adoptive mothers' warm parenting at 27 months predicted lower levels of child externalizing problems at ages 6 and 7. Child EC moderated this association in relation to teacher reports of school-age externalizing problems. Findings corroborate prior research with biological families that was not designed to unpack genetic and environmental influences on associations between parenting and child externalizing problems during childhood, highlighting the important role of parental warmth as an environmental influence.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
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    • "ggressive rule - break - ing subtype ( Burt , 2009 , 2012 ; Burt & Neiderhiser , 2009 ; Tackett , Krueger , Sawyer , & Graetz , 2003 ) . In addition , it has been shown that high trait ag - gression was associated with alterations in the interpretation of neutral faces , whereas no such correlation with rule - breaking behavior could be observed ( Burt et al . , 2009 ) . More specifically , aggressive but not rule - breaking behav - ior was uniquely tied to a hostile perception of others in an undergraduate student sample ( i . e . , neutral unknown faces were rated as threatening ) . However , to the best of our knowledge , no study to date has examined these two subtypes with regard to difficultie"
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    ABSTRACT: Prior studies provide evidence for impaired recognition of distress cues in individuals exhibiting antisocial behavior. However, it remains unclear whether this deficit is generally associated with antisociality or may be specific to violent behavior only. To examine whether there are meaningful differences between the two behavioral dimensions rule-breaking and aggression, violent and nonviolent incarcerated offenders as well as control participants were presented with an animated face recognition task in which a video sequence of a neutral face changed into an expression of one of the six basic emotions. The participants were instructed to press a button as soon as they were able to identify the emotional expression, allowing for an assessment of the perceived emotion onset. Both aggressive and nonaggressive offenders demonstrated a delayed perception of primarily fearful facial cues as compared to controls. These results suggest the importance of targeting impaired emotional processing in both types of antisocial behavior.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Journal of Personality Disorders
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    • "Moreover, the findings for RB could not be explained by either unknown genetic relatedness across participants or neighborhood selection, and were partially attributable to structural characteristics and social processes within each neighborhood. Such results are collectively consistent with the notion that neighborhood context may account for at least a proportion of the environmental contributions unique to RB (Burt, 2009). "
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    ABSTRACT: Prior meta-analytic work has highlighted important etiological distinctions between aggressive (AGG) and non-aggressive rule-breaking (RB) dimensions of antisocial behavior. Among these is the finding that RB is influenced by the environment more than is AGG. Relatively little research, however, has sought to identify the specific environmental experiences that contribute to this effect. The current study sought to do just this. We examined whether unrelated adults residing in the same neighborhood (n = 1915 participants in 501 neighborhoods) were more similar in their AGG and RB than would be expected by chance. Analyses focused on simple multi-level models, with the participant as the lower-level unit and the neighborhood as the upper-level unit. Results revealed little to no evidence of neighborhood-level variance in AGG. By contrast, 11+% of the variance in RB could be predicted from participant neighborhood, results that persisted even when considering the possibility of genetic relatedness across participants and neighborhood selection effects. Moreover, 17% of this neighborhood-level variance in RB was accounted for by neighborhood structural characteristics and social processes. Findings bolster prior suggestions that broader contextual experiences, like the structural and social characteristics of one's neighborhood, contribute in a meaningful way to RB in particular. Our results also tentatively imply that this association may be environmental in origin. Future work should seek to develop additional, stronger designs capable of more clearly leveraging genetic un-relatedness to improve causal inferences regarding the environment.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015 · Psychological Medicine
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