Product of their environment? Scientists study the link between a violent community and antisocial behavior in kids

Do you live in an environment where violence is present? A study finds that children and teenagers who experienced living in a violent community have more chances of being antisocial in comparison with those who live in peaceful communities.

A team of researchers from the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Hospital Basel has carried out a study that focused on the association between a violent community and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. For the study, they have investigated a total of 1,178 children and adolescents who are between the ages of nine and 18 from seven countries in Europe. Of the participants, 516 of them have been diagnosed with a conduct disorder, while the remaining 662 individuals have been considered healthy.

The findings of the study have revealed that children and adolescents who are often exposed to a violent community — where fights, chases, or threats are present — are more likely to be antisocial compared to those who are not exposed to such environment. It has also been shown that as the community violence exposure increases, young people tend to be more antisocial. This behavior has been observed in both healthy participants as wells as in those who already had behavior problems.

“We can rule thus rule out the possibility that associations between community violence exposure and conduct problems are merely due to the fact that those with conduct disorder simply tend to live in more violent neighborhoods,” Linda Kersten, lead author of the study, explains.

One of the most common reasons for referral to mental health services for this age group in Europe is conduct disorder, which can be identified by oppositional, aggressive, and dissocial behavior. Conduct disorder is also frequently associated with a negative, long-term psychological outcome. Individuals with this disorder have a greater chance of school drop-out, occupational failure, further psychiatric disorders, or involvement with the criminal justice system.

The researchers have suggested that their study could help promote prevention programs and support initiatives for those children and teens who have already been exposed to violence. Moreover, their study indicates that extra effort should be done to form prevention programs in communities with high rates of violence. (Related: Mental health screening of teens creates a “crisis” where none exists.)

“The aim is to prevent the potential isolation of young people with a high violence exposure and to thereby [break] the dangerous cycle of young people being exposed to community violence and going on to perpetrate violence against others,” says Christina Stadler of the University Psychiatric Hospital Basel.

The study has been published in the journal Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience Research and is part of the FemNAT-CD project, a large Europe-wide research project that focuses on the interactions between psychosocial and genetic factors in conduct disorders.

More on antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is defined by as a mental condition wherein an individual has a long-term pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others, and this behavior is often criminal. The cause of this disorder is unknown, yet an individual’s genes and other external factors, such as child abuse or exposure to violence, may increase the risk of developing this condition.

People who are more likely to have this condition are men, those with an antisocial or alcoholic parent, and people in prison. Its symptoms are its highest during a person’s late teenage years and early 20s, but they sometimes improve when the person reaches his 40s. This personality disorder is one of the hardest to treat because people with this condition typically do not seek treatment on their own and may only start therapy when the court demands it.

Find out more research on behavior at

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus