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Posted August, 2003

Genetic and Environmental Effects on Aggressive and
Rule-Breaking Behavior: Longitudinal Findings for
Swedish Twins in Childhood and Adolescence

Diagnostic systems such as DSM-IV typically combine aggressive behavior problems with rule-breaking behavior into a single diagnostic category of Conduct Disorder. However, empirically based studies have identified a syndrome of aggressive behavior (e.g., fighting, attacking people) and a separate syndrome of rule-breaking behavior (e.g., lying, stealing, truancy). Although aggressive behavior often correlates significantly with rule-breaking behavior, longitudinal studies have shown that the two syndromes follow different developmental paths. In addition, genetic factors have been found to influence aggressive behavior more than rule-breaking behavior. To illuminate relations between genetic factors and the developmental courses of the different kinds of conduct problems, Eley, Lichtenstein, and Moffitt (2003) performed genetic analyses of CBCL Aggressive Behavior and Delinquent Behavior (now called Rule-Breaking Behavior) syndrome scores for over 2,000 Swedish twins at ages 8-9 and 13-14. The genetic analyses indicated "that continuity in aggressive ASB (antisocial behavior) was largely influenced by genetic factors, whereas continuity in nonaggressive ASB resulted from both genetic and shared environmental factors" (p. 400). Because longitudinal data are seldom available for making decisions in specific cases, Eley et al. concluded that "it may be necessary to rely on the phenotypic heterogeneity in young people's antisocial behaviors in order to define diagnostic subtypes" and that their study "provides discriminant validity for the etiology of these behaviorally defined subtypes" (p. 400).

Reference: Eley, T. C., Lichtenstein, P., & Moffitt, T.E. (2003). A longitudinal behavioral genetic analysis of the etiology of aggressive and nonaggressive antisocial behavior. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 383-402.


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