Antisocial Behavior

Adapted from David Sue, Derald Sue, & Stanley Sue, Understanding Abnormal Behavior, 4th ed. (Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994).

Chronic antisocial behavioral patterns such as irresponsibility, lying, using other people, and aggressive sexual behavior indicate antisocial personality disorder.... Their relationships with others are superficial and fleeting, and little loyalty is involved. Antisocial personality disorder…is far more prevalent among men than among women.…

A distinction should be made between the behavior patterns associated with antisocial personality disorder and behaviors involving social protest or criminal lifestyles. People who engage in civil disobedience or violate the conventions of society or its laws as a form of protest are not as a rule persons with antisocial personalities…. They may perceive their violations of rules and norms as acts performed for the greater good. Similarly, engaging in delinquent or adult criminal behavior is not a necessary or sufficient condition for diagnosing antisocial personality. Although many convicted criminals have been found to have antisocial characteristics, many others do not. They may come from a subculture that encourages and reinforces criminal activity; hence, in perpetrating such acts they are adhering to group mores and codes of conduct.…

Some theorists believe that relationships within the family – the primary agent of socialization – are paramount in the development of antisocial patterns (McCord, W., & McCord, J. (1964). The Psychopath: An Essay on the Criminal Mind. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand). Loeber (1990) found that socioeconomic status of the family was a weak predictor whereas family factors such as poor parental supervision and involvement were good predictors. Rejection or deprivation by one or both parents may provide little opportunity to learn socially appropriate behaviors or may diminish the value of people as socially reinforcing agents. Parental separation has been correlated with antisocial personality. Children may have been traumatized or subjected to a hostile environment during the parental separation (Vaillant, G. E., & Perry, J. C. (1985). Personality disorders. In H. I. Kaplan & B. J. Sadock (Eds.), Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (4th ed., pp. 958-986). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins). Millon and Everly (1985) believe that hostility in such families may result in interpersonal hostility among the children. Hence [socio]paths may find little satisfaction in close or meaningful relationships with others.… A distinction is also made between primary and secondary [socio]paths. A primary [socio]path lacks anxiety or guilt over antisocial behavior but a secondary [socio]path reports guilt over such behaviors.…

Lykken (1982) argued that heroes and [socio]paths are two sides of the same coin. For example, Chuck Yeager, a heroic test pilot, once concealed broken ribs that he had suffered in a wild midnight horseback ride so that he could go aloft in the belly of a B-29, wedge himself in a tiny cockpit of the X-1 rocket plane, and let himself be jettisoned at an altitude of 26,000 feet to become the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. And Ted Bundy was a charming, intelligent, and articulate [socio]path who left a coast-to-coast trail of brutal and sadistic murders of young women. Lykken believes that heroes and [socio]paths share one characteristic – namely, fearlessness….

Although very fearless children are difficult to bring up, circumstances and family environment may play crucial roles. Those who have the opportunity to channel their fearlessness into socially approved activities (such as being a test pilot) and who are socialized in families that emphasize warm and loving relationships rather than punishment techniques may be less likely to become [socio]paths… People who are relatively fearless, such as heroes and [socio]paths, may [also] have a greater tendency to choose the frightening or embarrassing alternative than do fearful people.

  • Loeber, R. (1990). Development and risk factors for juvenile antisocial behavior and delinquency. Clinical Psychology Review, 10, 1-42.
  • Lykken, D. T. (1982). Fearlessness: Its carefree charm and deadly risks. Psychology Today, 16, 20-28.
  • Milton, T., & Everly, G. S. (1985). Personality and its disorders. New York: Wiley.

    See also:

    Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
    Mind Control

    misc. keywords: applied psychology