Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In order to understand the etiology of childhood and adolescent delinquency, researchers now recognize the need to identify risk factors for antisocial behavior across multiple disciplinary domains. Relative to psychological and social factors, biological factors have been the focus of little criminological research. This dissertation addresses this limitation by examining biological risk factors for antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. This dissertation consists of three papers that examine heart rate and hormones in relation to aggression and other antisocial behavior problems in youth. The first paper examines the relationship between reduced heart rate and antisocial behavior. Although low heart rate is a well-replicated biological correlate of antisocial behavior, the mechanism underlying this relationship remains largely unknown. This study addressed this limitation by examining possible mediators of the relationship between heart rate and antisocial behavior in a community sample of adolescent boys. This paper is the first to show that impulsive sensation seeking underlies the relationship between aggression and heart rate. The second paper examines the interaction between heart rate reactivity to stress and neighborhood disadvantage in a community sample of male and female young adolescents. Heart rate reactivity to stress interacted with neighborhood disadvantage to predict antisocial behavior, with a stronger association between neighborhood disadvantage and antisocial behavior amongst subjects with low heart rate reactivity. The third paper examines whether interactions between biological systems predict antisocial behavior in male and female young adolescents. In males, low cortisol reactivity was associated with higher levels of aggression and rule-breaking behavior, but only among subjects with low 2D:4D (i.e., high prenatal testosterone). Together, the papers in this dissertation advance our understanding of the development of antisocial behavior in youth by identifying how biological factors both in interaction with the social environment and in interaction with one another contribute to the etiology of delinquency. At a theoretical level, findings highlight the need for research that examines variables across multiple disciplines in order to understand the development of antisocial behavior. At an intervention level, findings suggest that biological factors could be potential targets for behavioral change.
Portnoy, Jill, "Risk Factors for Antisocial Behavior in Juveniles: A Multidisciplinary Perspective" (2015). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 1119.