Conduct and emotional problems, rather than hyperactivity, in early childhood may be associated with increased risk of criminal offending, a recent UK study has shown.
Researchers investigated whether conduct disorders, hyperactivity and emotional problems in childhood could predict adult criminal offending.
This longitudinal epidemiological study assessed 6- and 7-year-old boys (n=173) for hyperactivity, conduct and emotional problems,* and related this to their UK Ministry of Justice criminal offence history at follow-up after 19 years (when participants were 25–27 years old).
Results showed that one or more criminal conviction had been recorded for 43 boys (25%). Of these, 20 had a conviction for an act of violence; 16 of whom had been convicted for more than one violent criminal offence.
Discriminant function analysis revealed that only conduct problems were a significant predictor of total criminal convictions (p<0.05). Both conduct and emotional problems were predictors of violent crimes (p<0.001 for both), with emotional problems being the strongest indicator. Hyperactive behaviour was not found to be associated with criminal convictions.
These results indicated that the risk of children gaining criminal convictions later in life is predicted by their associated conduct/emotional problems rather than hyperactivity. The researchers proposed that the link between emotional problems and violent crimes may be due to poor behavioural control, and surmised that these findings add to the knowledge on the developmental mechanisms of criminal behaviour. However, they noted that the sample size for convictions was small, and may have reduced the power of comparisons. Furthermore, the study did not take into account possible influencing factors such as substance use, personality disorders or treatment history for the intervening period.
Read more about childhood emotional problems and criminal offences here
*Rutter A(2) parent questionnaire and Rutter B(2) teacher questionnaire
Young S, Taylor E, Gudjonsson G. Childhood predictors of criminal offending: results from a 19-year longitudinal epidemiological study of boys. J Atten Disord 2015; 20: 206-213.