Previous studies have repeatedly shown verbal intelligence deficits in adolescent antisocial individuals, but it is not known whether these deficits are in place prior to kindergarten or, alternatively, whether they are acquired throughout childhood. This study assesses whether cognitive deficits occur as early as age 3 years and whether they are specific to persistently antisocial individuals. Verbal and spatial abilities were assessed at ages 3 and 11 years in 330 male and female children, while antisocial behavior was assessed at ages 8 and 17 years. Persistently antisocial individuals (N = 47) had spatial deficits in the absence of verbal deficits at age 3 years compared to comparisons (N = 133), and also spatial and verbal deficits at age 11 years. Age 3 spatial deficits were independent of social adversity, early hyperactivity, poor test motivation, poor test comprehension, and social discomfort during testing, and they were found in females as well as males. Findings suggest that early spatial deficits contribute to persistent antisocial behavior whereas verbal deficits are developmentally acquired. An early-starter model is proposed whereby early spatial impairments interfere with early bonding and attachment, reflect disrupted right hemisphere affect regulation and expression, and predispose to later persistent antisocial behavior.
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