Antisocial behaviour

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Antisocial behavior and its characteristics

Antisocial behavior is defined as disruptive activities that are associated with covert and overt antagonism, as well as intentional acts of aggression directed at others. Acts of violence on property, such as vandalism and theft, are examples of concealed tendencies. Overt characters, on the other hand, include childhood hostility toward others such as lying, bullying, noncompliance, sneaking or secretly ruining others' properties (Renolds, 2007).

Child delinquency is caused by antisocial tendencies that emerge progressively during the early stages of development. Antisocial characteristics can be observed in children as young as three or four years old. Early detection is crucial to avoiding severity, which can lead to chronic behavior later in life. Although the exact cause of the antisocial traits is not known, there are varieties of high-risk factors that have been reported to show a strong correlation to the antisocial behaviors. These high-risk factors include the neuropsychological, genetics, family, environmental stressors at prenatal stage and exposure to violence through electronic media like movies and video games. In this paper, neuropsychological risk factors and the functioning of the brain are the significant aspects that will be discussed the antisocial behaviors or delinquency.

Neuropsychological Risk Factors and Brain Functioning in Antisocial Behaviors

Neuropsychological risk factors are aspects based on human conduct and how it is related to the abnormal and normal functioning of the nervous system and brain. The brain-behavior relationships are among the factors that cause the antisocial conducts in the young children. The other aspect involved in the antisocial behaviors is the brain structure and functioning. The development of the brain can experience some problem which equates to adverse effects of the behaviors of the participants.

Brain structure and functioning in antisocial behavior

To understand how the brain structure and function cause the antisocial traits, it's good to look at the different parts of the brain that are responsible for control of behavior. There are several regions of the brain which are compromised for the development of antisocial character including the prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal and dorsofrontal), hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) Axis, the Amygdala (hippocampal complex), angular gyrus, anterior temporal cortex and the anterior cingulate (Patrick, 2005). This process of assessing the abnormality of the brain about the behaving is called the brain imaging. If a functional or a structural impairment occurs, the individual is more likely to have antisocial traits. However, it is worth to note that there is no single part of the brain which is entirely responsible for the development of antisocial conduct. It occurs as a higher number of cognitive impairments arise.

The prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex part of the brain is highly implicated for development of the antisocial characters (Raine, 2006). A normal prefrontal cortex is involved in various functions including regular communications with other parts of the brain, controlling the emotions impulses through rational decision making, receiving of signals of the emotional impulses. This part of the brain remains undeveloped during the teenage years, and this reason explains why many adolescents engage in antisocial traits. If the prefrontal cortex of an individual is damaged, the individual loses the ability to interact with other people through the usual social norms. The individual also experiences loss of rational thinking, becomes more likely to engage in violent behaviors, the level of emotional impulse control decreases, development of feelings of indifference to the impacts of their behaviors. The last effect is a severe change in moods.

A study by Raine and colleagues through brain imaging showed that pathological liars have a different brain structure that explains why they exhibit lying as an antisocial behavior (Raine, 2011). The brain imaging reported that pathological liars have a less volume of grey matter in the prefrontal cortex and increase of the white matter of the corpus callosum. This increases its length and reduces its width. The amygdala is also reduced resulting in a pathological liar.

The amygdala

This part of the brain is contained in the limbic section. A normal amygdala is a site for processing emotional responses and the feelings related to human survival for example (fight and flight response) and social responses like jealousy and anger. Another notable part which works together with the amygdala is the hippocampus which assesses the cause and impact of relationships. Studies have shown that individuals suffering from antisocial behaviors like violent offenders and the delinquency in children have a malfunctioning amygdala and hippocampus (Wright, 2008). Studies have propounded that reduction in the volume of the amygdala results in violent offenders (Laakso, 2002). Increasing evidence is documented reporting a poor fear conditioning ability if the amygdala malfunctions.

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) Axis

Primarily the pituitary is known to produce growth hormones and sex hormones at puberty. When it comes to human behavior, it has been reported to work in conjunction with the hypothalamus. The pituitary in this conjunction controls the hormones that regulate responses like aggression and stress (Kurtz, 2008). Other functions include control of cognitive skills, intelligence, and impulsiveness. Malfunctioning of the HPA results in the loss of the ability to respond to stress leading to unwanted traits.

Other parts of the brain related to negative character include the cingulate gyrus which is responsible for acclimatizing and diverting attention. If it malfunctions, it makes an individual unable to tackle emotions like stress and anxiety. The last one is the ventral segmental part whose principal function is the production of a chemical called dopamine which is a transmitter. In cases of abnormal functioning leads to abnormal production of dopamine which has been reported to introvert features. The last part is the temporal cortex. Studies have shown that there was reduced glucose metabolism in the medial temporal regions of the brains of antisocial people (Patrick, 2005)

Prenatal exposure to substances

According to Beaver (2009), the process of brain development starts after conception and grows throughout the pregnancy period, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. There are dangers of the young brain being exposed to substances like toxins, malnutrition, testosterone, and stress. For example exposure to nicotine has been reported by several studies to cause dysfunction in the production of serotonin and dopamine. Smoking while pregnant has also been reported to result in the reduction of the volume of cortical gray matter which is associated with intelligence. Exposure to alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes hyperactivity, criminal trait, delinquency, learning deficits, and response to emotions (Wright, 2011). The exposure of young brains has been reported to have a link to negative conduct. The common neuropsychological deficits manifested by the exposure to those substances include loss of ability to inhibit emotional responses, difficulties in abiding by social expectations and responsibilities, inability to conform to societal demands, lack of organizational skills, and failure to delay gratification (Rocque, 2012). All these deficits show a strong correlation between the exposure of the young brain to substances and the development of introvert characters. Other neuropsychological deficits developed include immaturity, poor social judgment, impulsivity, development of risk-taking and rule-breaking traits.


Impulsiveness is merely to act without thinking. An individual having this neuropsychological deficit is characterized by having a little or lack of forethought and consideration of the consequences associated with an act (Feldman, 1996). For example, an individual may hit or kick the other due to anger or chase a tennis ball across a busy highway without considering the traffic. Although the impulsive behavior is expected to reduce with age, it can develop into adulthood. In adults, the impulsive conduct develops a self-sabotaging conduct. For example the affected individuals are reported to engage in risky and premature endeavors like criminal character (bank robbery, killing or causing injury due to anger and petty theft), dysfunctional workplace character (intentional breaking of rules and procedures, unnecessary argument with the boss). Next is the failure of relationships due to engaging with strangers quickly and seriously. Impulsive aggression on the other hand is where violence is used unpredictably by a person without taking time to consider about the consequences of the violence. This is caused by malfunctioning of amygdala, serotonin, and the prefrontal cortex among others. This trait is normally denied than defended.

Some studies have come up with two models the three-factor model and the five-factor-model. The three-factor model involves attention (becoming bored quickly), motor function (action), and cognition (failure to plan). The five-factor model includes positive and negative urgency, absence of premeditation, lack of perseverance, and sensational-seeking.

According to Walsh and Beaver (2009), a propounded criminology theory on impulsiveness and offending, individuals differ in their criminal tendencies. The theory also argues that a person will choose to commit a crime in any situation if the benefits of offending are significantly more than the costs. However, the benefits of material gain and sexual gratification occur first contrary to the costs of offending like being caught, loss of employment, punishment, and loss of reputation which are always delayed. Other costs of offending caused by impulsiveness include retaliation by the victim and disapproval by the people who are watching (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Also, the significant difference that arises between the offenders and non-offenders is whether the behavior is influenced by long-term or immediate determinants. The determinants are the ones that determine whether to engage in crime by the ability to think about the future.

Intelligence and low attainment

Intelligence is measured in IQ capacity. Studies have reported that there is a correlation between low IQ and delinquency or unwanted conduct like bullying. It has been found to be a pattern of neuropsychological deficit. Self-reported delinquency has been reported in individuals with low IQ. In a study carried out, offenders were found to have an IQ of 88 percent while non-offenders had 101 percent (Farrington & Welsh, 2007). Low IQ participants also recorded high police arrests than average IQ participants. And according to Jollife (2006), studies have reported that low cognitive empathy is related to theft and the low affective empathy associated with violence for example bullying which may also cause low empathy. The relationship between the low empathy and offending is only significant when associated with some subgroups cortisol and aggression genetics.

According to Gottfreson (1990), the propensities underlying criminal differences are due to self-control in different individuals. This explains why some people can resist crime but some cannot. The self-control is something which is not inborn but learned. Therefore the family plays the primary role in the development of self-control and institutions like schools play secondary roles (Gottfreson, 1990). Also, the hyperactivity observed in a child during the early developmental stages is a precise prediction of later offending and the development of antisocial behaviors (Jollife, 2006).


The antisocial conduct is a common problem all over the world. They are known to disappear as the child grows into adulthood. Although the primary cause is not known, this paper has discussed the brain functioning and neuropsychological risk factors correlated to negative traits and delinquency. These neuropsychological problems include malformation of parts of the brain like the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA). Malfunctioning of these parts causes a deficit in the ability to respond to emotions, decision making, and production of chemicals like serotonin which cause violence and other antisocial conduct. Other factors include impulsiveness, intelligence and low cognitive attainment, prenatal exposure to substances, and others. From the above discussion, it is clear that no single part of the brain or neuropsychological factor is responsible for the development of antisocial behavior as a combination of all those factors is in play.


Farrington, D. P., & Welsh, B. (2007). Saving children from a life of crime: Early risk factors and effective interventions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Feldman, R. S. (1996). The psychology of adversity. Amherst: University of Massachusetts.

Gottfreson, M. R. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Jollife, D. F. (2006). Examining the Relationship Between Low Empathy and Bullying. Journal of Aggressive behavior, 32 (540-550).

Kurtz, L. R. (2008). Encyclopedia of violence, peace and conflict. San Diego: Academic Press.

Laakso, M. P. (2002). Prefrontal volumes in habitually violent subjects with antisocial personality disorder. Journal of Psychiatry Research, 114 (2)95-102.

Patrick, C. J. (2005). Handbook of Psychopathy. New York: Guilford Publcations.

Raine, A. (2006). Neural foundations and to maral reasoning and antisocial behavior. Social cognitive and affective neurosciece, 1 (3) 203-213.

Raine, A. (2011). An amygdala structural abnormality common to two subtypes of conduct disorder: A neurodevelopmental conundrum. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168(569-571).

Renolds, C. R. (2007). Encyclopedia of special education. New York: Wiley.

Rocque, M. W. (2012). Biosocial criminology and modern crime prevention. Journal of Criminal Justice. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40 (4) 306-312.

Walsh, A., & Beaver, K. M. (2009). Biosocial criminology. New York: Springer

Wright, J. P. (2011). Prenatal insults and the development of persistent criminal behavior. Burlington: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

Wright, J. T. (2008). Criminimals in the making:Criminality across the life course. Thousand Oaks: Sage publication .

April 26, 2023

Behavior Learning

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