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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR

Determining Degrees of Antisociality

A major problem with the conception of antisocial behavior as counternormative or even illegal conduct is that many of the actions given this label are exceedingly common, particularly in adolescence. Kazdin (1987) noted that more than half of the teenagers in some US. surveys admitted to theft and 60% acknowledged having performed antisocial behaviors such as arson, vandalism, and drug use. After reviewing a number of studies in which teenagers were asked to report any illegal actions they had committed, Moffitt (1993) has concluded that rates of law violations “soar so high during adolescence that participation in delinquency appears to be a normal part of teen life” (P. 675).

The Gottfredson team also found that how serious any one type of offense is thought to be varies with the judge’s degree of familiarity with crime; by and large, those who are more familiar with law violations in general tend to regard all offenses as less serious.

What is especially important here is that a high level of aggressiveness seems to be characteristic of those at the extremely antisocial end of this dimension, so much so that the Patterson and his colleagues think of the antisocial trait as a stable disposition to employ coercive (i,e., largely aggressive) behaviors contingently “to shape and manipulate their social environment” (Patterson et al., 1992, p. 22). More will be said later about this last mentioned notion of aggression as instrumental behavior.

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