Psychological, neuropsychological and physiological correlates of serious antisocial behavior in adolescence: The role of self-control

Elizabeth Cauffman, Laurence Steinberg, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

177 Citations (Scopus)


Gottfredson and Hirschi claim that self-control is the only enduring personal characteristic implicated in criminal activity. Other scholars, such as Moffitt and Rowe, claim that although self-control is important, so are neuropsychological and physiological factors. This study attempts to adjudicate between these two positions by examining the ways in which neuropsychological factors, especially those relevant to executive function, biological factors, especially those relevant to autonomic reactivity, and self-control interrelate to distinguish between offenders and nonoffenders. Data were obtained from adolescents attending public high schools in northern California and adolescents incarcerated in the California Youth Authority. Serious juvenile offenders evince lower resting heart rate, show poorer performance on tasks that activate cognitive functions mediated by the prefrontal cortex, especially those measuring spatial working memory, and score lower on measures of self-control. Regression analyses indicated that although variations in self-control distinguish between the two groups, so too do neuropsychological and biological factors, a result that both supports and refutes Gottfredson and Hirschi's contention. In contrast, variation in minor delinquency among high school students is unrelated to frontal lobe functioning and heart rate, but related to variations in self-control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-175
Number of pages43
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Neuropsychological
  • Self-control

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