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Clin Psychol Rev. 2009 Mar;29(2):163-78. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2008.12.004. Epub 2009 Jan 5.

Are there meaningful etiological differences within antisocial behavior? Results of a meta-analysis.

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Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


There is mounting evidence of etiologically driven distinctions between aggressive (AGG) and non-aggressive rule-breaking (RB) forms of antisocial behavior. To date, however, these differences remain somewhat speculative. The current meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies sought to clarify these distinctions by comparing meta-analytic estimates of genetic, shared environmental, and non-shared environmental influences across AGG and RB to more clearly ascertain whether they evidence differential patterns of genetic and environmental influence. A comprehensive literature search resulted in the collection of 103 twin and adoption studies, of which 15 RB samples and 19 AGG samples were ultimately included in the analyses. Results reveal clear evidence of etiological distinctions between AGG and RB. Namely, AGG appears to be a highly heritable condition (genetic factors account for 65% of the variance), with little role for the shared or common environment, particularly after childhood. By contrast, while genetic influences also contribute to RB (48% of the variance), there is an important role for shared environmental effects as well (18% of the variance). Such findings are indicative of meaningful etiologic distinctions between aggressive and rule-breaking forms of antisocial behavior, and underscore the advantage of differentiating between these behavioral subtypes when studying the causal processes that underlie antisocial behavior.

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