How do we optimally conceptualize the heterogeneity within antisocial behavior? An argument for aggressive versus non-aggressive behavioral dimensions

Clin Psychol Rev. 2012 Jun;32(4):263-79. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2012.02.006. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


Extant research has highlighted meaningful distinctions in the correlates, developmental trajectories, and etiologies of physically aggressive (AGG) as compared to non-aggressive rule-breaking (RB) antisocial behavior. AGG is a highly heritable behavioral dimension that emerges in early childhood and exhibits specific ties to negative emotionality and executive dysfunction. Although the frequency of aggressive behaviors decreases after early childhood, those who are most aggressive early in life typically continue to aggress at relatively high rates across the lifespan. By contrast, RB demonstrates specific associations with impulsivity, is most frequent during adolescence, and evidences more moderate levels of stability and stronger environmental influences as compared to AGG. These etiological and developmental differences link up quite well to Moffitt's (1993) developmental taxonomy of antisocial behavior, providing a clear theoretical basis for examining differences between AGG and RB. Perhaps more importantly, however, the link between AGG/RB and Moffitt's taxonomy allows us to conceptualize her categorical taxonomy in dimensional terms, an important development given the recent emphasis on dimensional conceptualizations of psychopathology. Available evidence further indicates that neither AGG nor RB is redundant with callous-unemotional traits. The current review thus underscores the clear advantages of differentiating between AGG and RB when studying antisocial behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age of Onset
  • Aggression / classification
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / classification
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics
  • Conduct Disorder / classification
  • Conduct Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Conduct Disorder / genetics
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / genetics
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Social Environment*