Skip to main content

Predictors of antisocial personality: Continuities from childhood to adult life

  • Emily Simonoff (a1), James Elander (a2), Janet Holmshaw (a3), Andrew Pickles (a4), Robin Murray (a5) and Michael Rutter (a6)...

Antisocial behaviour in adult life has its roots in childhood.


To explore the independent and joint effects of childhood characteristics on the persistence of antisocial behaviour into adult life.


A clinical sample of twins who were systematically ascertained in childhood was followed up 10–25 years later. A total of 225 twins were interviewed regarding childhood and adult psychiatric disorder, psychosocial functioning, and psychosocial and cognitive risk factors.


In univariate analyses, childhood hyperactivity and conduct disorder showed equally strong prediction of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and criminality in early and mid-adult life. Lower IQ and reading problems were most prominent in their relationships with childhood and adolescent antisocial behaviour. In multivariate modelling childhood conduct disorder and hyperactivity predicted adult ASPD even when intervening risk factors were accounted for. The number of hyperactive and conduct symptoms also predicted adult outcome.


Childhood disruptive behaviour has powerful long-term effects on adult antisocial outcomes, which continue into middle adulthood. The importance of number of symptoms, the presence of disruptive disorder, and intermediate experiences highlight three areas where interventions might be targeted.

Corresponding author
Professor Emily Simonoff, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AZ, UK. E-mail:
Hide All

Declaration of interest

None. Funding detailed in Acknowledgements.

Hide All
American Psychiatric Association (1987) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd edn, revised) (DSM–III–R). Washington, DC: APA.
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edn) (DSM–IV). Washington, DC: APA.
Ammons, R. B. & Ammons, C. H. (1962) The Quick Test (QT): provisional manual. Psychological Reports, 11, 111161.
Anastasi, A. (1990) Psychological Testing (2nd edn). New York: Macmillan.
Angold, A., Prendergast, M., Cox, A., et al (1995) The Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment (CAPA). Psychological Medicine, 25, 739753.
Caspi, A., Elder, J. M. H. & Herbener, E. S. (1990) Childhood personality and the prediction of life-course patterns. In Straight and Devious Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood (eds Robins, L. & Rutter, M.), pp. 1355. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Elander, J., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., et al (2000) A longitudinal study of adolescent and adult conviction rates among children referred to psychiatric services for behavioural and emotional problems. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 10, 4059.
Farrington, D. P. (1993) Motivations for conduct disorder and delinquency. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 225241.
Farrington, D. P., Loeber, R. & Van Kammen, W. B. (1990) Long-term criminal outcomes of hyperactivity–impulsivity–attention deficit and conduct problems in childhood. In Straight and Devious Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood (eds Robins, L. N. & Rutter, M.), pp. 6281. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fergusson, D. M. (1996) The role of adolescent peer affiliations in the continuity between childhood behavioral adjustment and juvenile offending. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 205221.
Fergusson, D. M. & Horwood, L. J. (1995) Early disruptive behaviour, IQ, and later school achievement and delinquent behaviour. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 23, 183199.
Harrington, R. (1988) The assessment of lifetime psychopathology: a comparison of two interviewing styles. Psychological Medicine, 8, 487493.
Harrington, R., Fudge, H., Rutter, M., et al (1990) Adult outcomes of childhood and adolescent depression. I. Psychiatric status. Archives of Genetic Psychiatry, 47, 465473.
Hill, J., Harrington, R., Fudge, H., et al (1989) Adult personality functioning assessment (APFA). An investigator-based standardised interview. British Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 2435.
Holmshaw, J. & Simonoff, E. (1996) The validity of a retrospective interview on childhood psychopathology. International Journal of Methodology in Psychiatric Research, 6, 110.
Hough, M. & Mayhew, P. (1983) The British Crime Survey: First Report. London: HMSO.
Huber, P. J. (1967) The behavior of maximum likelihood estimates under non-standard conditions. In Proceedings of the Fifth Berkeley Symposium in Mathematical Statistics and Probability, pp. 221233. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Kerr, M., Tremblay, R. E., Pagani-Kurtz, L., et al (1996) Disruptiveness, inhibition, and withdrawal as predictors of boys' delinquency and depression. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 794, 367368.
Kerr, M., Tremblay, R. E., Pagani, L., et al (1997) Boys: behavioral inhibition and the risk of later delinquency. Archives of General Psychiatry, 54, 809816.
Lahey, B. B., Loeber, R., Quay, H. C., et al (1998) Validity of DSM–IV subtypes of conduct disorder based on age of onset. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37, 435442.
Maughan, B., Pickles, A., Hagell, A., et al (1996) Reading problems and antisocial behaviour: developmental trends in comorbidity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 37, 405418.
Moffitt, T. E. (1993a) Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 574601.
Moffitt, T. E. (1993b) The neuropsychology of conduct disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 135151.
Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Harrington, H., et al (2002) Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited antisocial pathways: follow-up at age 26 years. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 179207.
Olweus, D. (1979) Stability in aggressive reaction patterns in males: a review. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 852875.
Robins, L. N. (1978) Sturdy childhood predictors of adult antisocial behaviour: replications from longitudinal studies. Psychological Medicine, 8, 611622.
Robins, L. N. (1991) Conduct disorder. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 32, 193212.
Robins, L. N. & Price, R. K. (1991) Adult disorders predicted by childhood conduct problems: results from the NIMH Epidemiological Catchment Area project. Psychiatry, 54, 116132.
SAS (1988) SAS Version 6.03. Cary, NC: SAS Institute.
StataCorp (1997) Stata Statistical Software Release 5.0. College Station, TX: Stata Corporation.
Tremblay, R. E., Pihl, R. O., Vitaro, F., et al (1994) Predicting early onset of male antisocial behavior from preschool behavior. Archives of General Psychiatry, 51, 732739.
Zoccolillo, M., Pickles, A., Quinton, D., et al (1992) The outcome of childhood conduct disorder: implications for defining adult personality and conduct disorder. Psychological Medicine, 22, 971986.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 74 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 161 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 2nd January 2018 - 19th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Predictors of antisocial personality: Continuities from childhood to adult life

  • Emily Simonoff (a1), James Elander (a2), Janet Holmshaw (a3), Andrew Pickles (a4), Robin Murray (a5) and Michael Rutter (a6)...
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *