By | March 28, 2009 15 Comments

Sex differences in antisocial behavior (part 3)

Antisocial behavior is behavior that harms others or infringes on their rights. Sociopaths are antisocial in that this behavior has become a lifestyle for them. Although some might say that this lifestyle is “learned” volumes of research show that genes determine who learns this lifestyle. Furthermore, the learning begins in childhood and adolescence. In the last few weeks we have been discussing some of the findings of researchers who followed over 1000 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. This week we will see how they answered the following questions:

1. Are men more violent than women?
2. Is antisocial behavior stable in individuals over time?
3. Is the degree of stability the same for males and females?
4. What is the age of onset of delinquency and conduct disorder in males and females?

Are men more violent than women?

Females have been demonstrated in many studies to be less violent than males. This sex difference has been interpreted to mean that women differ fundamentally from men by lacking the underlying motivation or capacity for violence. What does the Dunedin data show? Males scored significantly higher than females on almost every measure of physically aggressive violent behavior. This was true for every age through age 21. By age 21 males were significantly more likely to have been convicted of a violent offence by an odds ratio of nearly 5:1.

The one exception

The one exception to the “men are more violent” rule is intimate partner or family violence. Women may be even more violent than men in this context. The reason is that the need to control and strive for dominance is present in both men and women. The family context brings out this need in women.

Sex and the developmental stability of antisocial behavior (ASB)

Even in the 1970s during the heyday of ”˜situationism’ in psychology, behavioral scientists acknowledged that individual differences of ASB are stable. Some people are more antisocial than others, this tendency starts during development and continues.

Stability of antisocial behavior rank in Dunedin study males and females

One way to look at ASB is to rank members of a group in terms of how much they show. Some people are disinclined and others are inclined. Different data sources- including parents, teachers, peers and self-ratings in the Dunedin study suggest that the ASB of males and females is predictable across time. Over the first two decades of life, relative to same-sex peers, antisocial boys and girls are equally likely to retain their rank in their groups.

Stability of conduct disorder

Another way to look at ASB is to create a disorder out of it and group the haves and the have-nots. Although antisocial girls retain their rank across time relative to their sex, girls are less likely than boys to sustain over time behavior that is extreme enough to warrant a diagnosis. Males and females are not equally likely to retain a diagnosis of conduct disorder overtime. When the same diagnostic criteria are applied males show more continuity of disorder than females. About 50% of the males who were diagnosed with conduct disorder showed stability, half showed remission. In contrast only 16% of females showed stability of disorder. Conduct disorder is early antisocial personality.

Since rank is stable and diagnosis is not as stable. Rank is a more sensitive indicator of a person than is whether or not some artificial cut-off is met.

Sex and the Age of Onset of Delinquency and Conduct Disorder

Estimates of the age at which ASB begins vary according to data source. Onset measured by conviction will lag 3 to 5 years behind onset measured by self report. Self —report data reveal that adult onset of ASB after adolescence is relatively rare. (That doesn’t mean though that the ASB present during the teen years is always apparent to everyone else- consider Bernard Madoff and Dennis Rader; both are very antisocial but were not arrested until age 70 and 60.) At every age, more males than females are beginning theft and violence.

Age of onset

Among young people who do begin antisocial behavior before adulthood, age of onset is markedly similar between the sexes. Males and females onset within 6 months of each other, 12-14 years of age is usual for both.

Next week

Next week -what are the personality traits that link to a life pattern of antisocial behavior in males and females? When do the traits show up and how do they change over time?

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The one exception to the “men are more violent” rule is intimate partner or family violence. Women may be even more violent than men in this context.

And yet if you go to many Domestic Violence sites or even State Government sites you will almost always run into information that says differently. It is common to see the “95% of all DV victims are women” statement or something very close. Even though it is not true it is still used frequently by the media and others.

Ox Drover

Great article, as far as it went, I had just “gotten into it” when it ENDED! MORE MORE MORE!!!!

I agree with Blogger on this one, the “statistics” that are quoted are skewed for sure.

The FEMALE “Intimate Violence” vs violence against outsiders is a thing hidden from society—it may also not be “physical” violence but emotional violence, carried out in a passive aggressive way, at least most of the time. It can escalate, however, as pressure for revenge or dominance and control motivates.

Society and the general public, IMHO, are still lagging behind professionals in the “situationism” of the 70s, with teachers, policemen, and many others still thinking in the “situationism” context. Even, I think, many mental health professionals still think “situation” or “environment” rather than genetics.


Being tall, having a good jump and big hands doesn’t automatically make a professional basketball player. But far more professional basketball players have those things than players who do not. And culture is a major factor as well. A 10th century Norseman with those same qualities would have gotten far more out of his life by pillaging and enslaving innocent foreigners, than he would have by trying to start a basketball league.

Common wisdom:
There’s the dog breed analogy: It’s a lot easier to turn a pit bull into a tough and mean watchdog than it is the basset hound. (Animal shelter employees will tell you that short haired cats claw and bite far more often than long hairs, but a cat analogy is a harder sell to the “common wisdom.”)

Who’s guilty:
Intimate partner or family violence is far more complex than meets the eye. Psychopathic mates can draw his/her otherwise sane mate into dominance and control craziness, after which P mates are much better at shifting blame.

Ox Drover

Oh, I agree to that, SOS, it takes BOTH genetics AND environment, but I think the identical twins raised apart study proves it is more genetics than environment.

I have extensive experience with animal training, both domestic and wild animals, and also in breeding dogs, horses, and cattle. I noticed a long time ago (as a teenager) that “attitude” bred fairly true in animals of several species. After I started heavy culling of my cow herd for “attitude” and “aggressiveness to humans” it wasn’t long before all my calves were much much quieter and less dangerous when cornered or when being taught to lead on a halter.

If you take a wolf pup off its mother before she even licks it dry, and suckle it on a bird dog, you will still have a wolf when it is grown, AND it will be a “dysfunctional” wolf at that since it was not socialized appropriately to its genetics.

The media has shown “trained” wild animals that appear “cuddly” and “loving” to their trainers, and I can testify that they are STILL WILD ANIMALS and in many cases, because they do not have appropriate regard for humans as “alpha” to them, they are MORE dangerous than a wild animal in captivity. That guy (can’t remember his name) that was mauled by his “trained” tiger is a perfect example.

Here on this farm, I have a “bigger and meaner rule” it says that if an animal is bigger AND meaner than I am, it goes. It may be smaller and meaner, but not BOTH bigger AND meaner. I am too old and cranky to get hurt by an animal that wants to hurt me. Animals that are large are always a potential injury, but I do NOT want one that is TRYING or WILL TRY to hurt me. I know out of fear, protection of young, etc they will try, but that is NORMAL, not “intentionally mean” or aggressive. I don’t hold them “responsible” for that type of aggression. I hold myself responsible for not respecting their natural instincts.

It is also why I choose to ride the jack asses rather than horses, as they are not at all likely to hurt me out of stupidity or fear, as they are not stupid, they are self protective but not aggressive, and in taking care of themselves, they will take care of me, where a horse would hurt me in the same situation out of fear or stupidity.

I think since we (at least) have seen the light that psychopaths are not really domesticated, but are actually “wild humans” in the guise of “domesticated humans,” like trained tigers, we must STAY AWAY FROM THEM in order to be safe. Neither the “trained” tigers or the psychopaths can ever be trusted and you never know when they will maul you to death.


I see a 3D genetic bell curve, shaped just like a bell, where most people reside in the ’hump’. At different locations at the radius near the bell’s flange are the relatively rare specialists (sensitive empaths, arcane philosophers, tough minded warriors…) who, working in concert with the rest of the group, helped make the human race what it is today.

But at the edge of the bell flange are the extreme and rarest genetics. It’s where empathic becomes avoidant, philosopher become schizoid, and warrior become psychopathic. And at that edge, genetics has the most influence on the person’s behavior.

Ox Drover

SOS, you know, I never thought about a “3-D” Belll Curve. It is definitely an interesting concept. It would allow for various levels of many things. Thanks, worth thinking on.

The only thing I don’t necessarily agree with you on is that the psychopaths are all that “rare”—unfortunately, too many people are Personality disordered at some level of distance from the center.

An interesting concept in dog breeding is the Great White Pyrenees vs the Pit Bull. The Pyrs are very gentle natured and nurturing but fierce and self sacrificing guardians of their charges and will willingly fight to the last breath to protect it. However, if the threat goes away they IMMEDIATELY let it go, they do not keep on fighting once the foe gives up.

They will use the MINIMUM AMOUNT OF FORCE to quell a perceived threat.

The Pit on the other hand once enraged and fighting will not give up, and they are quite unpredictable, where the Pyr is totally predictable and there has never been a case where a Pyr turned on its owners. Many of the other large “guardian” breeds frequently turn on and bite their owners. I have owned and used Pyrs for many years to guard livestock and never once have I suffered a loss of livestock as longas I had a Pyr on guard, and never once have I had a Pyr act inappropriately. They have almost 2,000 years of breeding behind their breed and are one of the oldest breeds in the world. Several other breeds have used them as base-stock, including St. Bernards.

Unfortunately for the human race, we are more “mutts” than most breeds of dogs, and you never know what genetics are behind your partner that might crop up in your children.

Ox Drover

p.s. Or in YOURSELF for that matter. I think if I had known then what I know now, I would never have had children. ONly one of my two biological sons is a P, but both grandfathers are flaming Ps, and my non-P son has elected to NOT ever have biological children for this very reason. I think it is a wise choice on his part.


One thing I like about the 3D bell curve is that it explains stuff like why there are no supermen (the Bill Clinton or Ted Haggard alpha male who can fearlessly lead yet also have wierd impulsive issues may be as good as they get), why philosophers can be brilliant deep thinkers yet lack basic common sense (Karl Marx AND Ayn Rand failing to take into account the malignant psychopath’s drive for power), and maybe even autism (?).

Maybe 3% of the people I’ve worked with are P enough to be a real pain. I include SS’s in that number (as psychopaths, machiavellians, and narcissists). Another 10% or so are wannabees or henchmen, but that side only seems to emerge when there’s a P around or they unify for some reason. I get along with common narcissistic, normally tough minded, arrogant guru, and absentee managers or peers as they’re usually predictable and seem to have a level of power and control drive which I find manageable.

the Great White Pyrenees vs the Pit Bull

One wonders, what chemically is the difference? My cats have coexisted with the wild raccoons for years. They’ve had their occasional hissy standoffs but you’d think the fearless and powerful raccoon would be snacking on neighborhood cats all the time. But you know a nasty Pit Bull would probably attack a GWP it saw on its turf.

you never know what genetics are behind your partner that might crop up in your children.

That’s for sure. My in-law and husband have one red head among their many siblings, yet produced 3 carrot tops together. What are the odds?

Another in-law, who has many borderline and sociopathic traits, with her coldly rational philandering husband, produced a girl who wound as the ’somebody has to be the responsible and sane one in this family’, and a male ADD who seems to have grown out of the worst aspects of his impulsive disrespective childhood.


While I appreciate this review of the New Zealand longitudinal study, I sense that something is lacking. Perhaps it is my lack of understanding or maybe it is the fact I was so damaged by trying to have a marriage with a female Sociopath. But the fact remains that there are significant differences between a Sociopath and an individual with Anti-Social Personality Disorder. This study seems to ignor the vast difference between ASPD and the Sociopath. For one, a Sociopath is NOT disordered, and I dare say Sociopaths are amoung the highest ordered amoung us. Certainly, they think so.

Age of onset is interesting but IMHO I think that “age of crystalization” may be more accurate. I am certain the traits & features have beginnings in the earlier years, say about 4 or 5 but by adolescence (age 14) we have a pretty well formed and stabilized entity. Still, I am mistaken to conceptualize the Sociopath as “disordered.” Certainly, they are far more “ordered” and organized (in what is traditionally thought of as “executive reasoning”) and it is difficult to engage in meaningful discourse on this.

Certainly, I do not want to elevate or reify the Sociopath but their functioning seems far superior to the ASPD. Even the hardened ASPD convicts I worked with recognized and feared the Sociopaths amoungst them!

There is a coolness, a coldness, a detachment in the Sociopath that even the average convict fears. They know Sociopaths play for higher stakes and, more importantly, the ASPD cons recognize that Sociopaths can almost never be beaten!

Hence, the ASPD avoid the Sociopath because they know they are going to lose!

And all you genetic biased idiologues, while your bias towards genetic causes over learning & environment are ALMOST AWAYS INCORRECT, it is the existence of the Sociopath that offers the most credence for your position.

Nonetheless, the Sociopath differentiates himself from the “Psychopath” by qualifying that they became, i.e. “learned,” environmentally, and they blame their etiology on their social environment.

Let me explain: the Sociopath does not think that he is as bad, as low or as disconnected from the rest of humanity as the Sociopath regards the Psychopath. In other words, the Sociopath recognizes differences between himself & his kind and the Psychopath whom he regards are far more deviant and far less human that himself. In turn, the Sociopath fears the Psychopath. “Those people are REALLY crazy!”

As one progesses through the continuum, it gets more remote and more difficult to distinguish differences. Yet, these groups have distinguished between and amoung themselves!

[Perhaps no continuum, even 3D as novel as it is, is going to work.]

Think about that: This is the predator of the predators. They function at a higher level. Both in terms of organization and outcome. They are not readily detectable by so-called “normals” and it takes the most hardened of ASPD convicts to recognize the Sociopath.

Stats are skewed by perception and by Political Correctness. Stats mean nothing when the qualitative differences and complex equivalents are not distinguished clearly and concisely. But what do I know? I’m just a psychologist. 🙂

I believe that women initiate (strike first) physical violence as often as do men (50% – 50%). And while men do more physical damage than women, women inflict more psychic damage. IMHO the best working definition of abuse is ‘doing anything to control another.’ It’s rather broad but it can be functional. I also believe that if we had God’s perspective and could see all the violence that we’d see more male DV victims than females, just slightly.

[Wild animals, OxDrover? Yes, indeed. How about pre-Adamic males and females? I.e. before man & woman were made in the image of God.]

I detect the ability in this group to sort this out even further. Better than the so-called professionals. This just shows how poor the literature is in this area. BUT, it is an extremely difficult area to work, study and progess. 🙁

SOS, it’s called “regression toward the mean” and it is the long observed tendency for the offspring of extremes to revert, for lack of a better word, to normalcy. For instance, mentally retarded adults were found to have children who were smarter than them rather than as retarded or more retarded.

OxDrover, I delayed and never had children because I was so worried about the possibility of passing on defective genes. Guess what? I found out the field, my field, was and IS full of a bunch of lies.

Eugenics was a field proferred by psychiatry. The most valid reasons for your son not to have children is lack of a stable partnership (internal resources) or lack of finances (external resources). Don’t buy into the hogwash about genetics Determining (sic) everything like I did.

{It is more truthful to claim behavior and learning control genes. DNA is controlled through the RNA. It HAS to be bi-directional!}

I observe a level of maturity in those who rear children that is not achievable amoung those who are childless. I’d give anything to have that opportunity to grow to that level. Besides, most of us (certainly far more than >85% {I can’t remember the stats.}) will die alone because we have had no children.

When circumstances permit, you’ll find a lot of resources on my website & blog.



Dont forget about adoption… 🙂

I am gr8ful for your post. I am a supporter of learned and environmental …as well as genetics…

Yes, I believe all things are possible. Its just not one or the other. And a great deal of time its both.

Also re your comment : “it’s called “regression toward the mean” and it is the long observed tendency for the offspring of extremes to revert, for lack of a better word, to normalcy” … found this most interesting thus far.

What is your website and blog? Is it your screenname?


GR8 said: “the Sociopath does not think that he is as bad, as low or as disconnected from the rest of humanity as the Sociopath regards the Psychopath. In other words, the Sociopath recognizes differences between himself & his kind and the Psychopath whom he regards are far more deviant and far less human that himself. In turn, the Sociopath fears the Psychopath. “Those people are REALLY crazy!”

I followed several socio/psycho blogs and forums for a very long time and I found the socios, in their discussions, to have the EXACT attitude you described above. There was undiagnosed people on them, plus diagnosed socios and psychopaths, including the dissocials as they are sometimes called (in Europe, I think?)

If you followed them long enough they often talked about some rather interesting subjects and feelings and attitudes. I learned a heckuva lot from them. Long before I learned from people like Sandra Brown to do the unemotional (act like you’ve had a lobotomy) thing, I learned it from reading the boards. I highly recommend finding a few blogs/forums and following them, or even asking questions of them, as long as you can take the insults that will be mixed in with the rare gem of useful information and if you can refrain from going all EMO and annoying them or trying to convert them to your way of thinking.


The main thing I learned is that (and I am talking of the diagnosed ones here) they are NOT all motivated by the same things, that they all had different likes and dislikes, and different things they wanted to accomplish. They were NOT all financial cons–some of them had NO interest whatsoever in that. Nor did all of them deliberately go around trying to hurt people, some of them actually tried not to hurt people, even though their lack of feelings (thus their actions) sometimes resulted in that. But some of them actually seemed to be trying really hard to fit into society and have a “normal” life by “our standards” although it did not come naturally to them. Most of them said they liked how they were, but at the same time they seemed like a fish out of water struggling to get by in life like the rest of us with as few problems as possible. But then, on the other hand, some of them got off on hurting people.

And the most chilling thing of all is that although some of them had no interest whatsoever in things like murder, and the ones that did usually made it clear they had no plans to ever ACT on it (because like everyone else they didn’t want to end up in jail), but nevertheless they fantasized about it alot. Like for example, when say talking to a neighbor about their lovely rose garden they might also be wondering at the same time what it would be like to fillet the neighbor.

Also, for the people on this board who are in romantic relationships, it might be of interest to know that some of them did enjoy working really hard at getting the ex back in their lives, so they could build them up again, then have the fun of breaking them back down again. But some of them didn’t try to deliberately hurt their romantic partners.

Although I know this probably is not going to be a popular opinion to post, when I think about the genetics and/or environmental factors that resulted in them being the way they are, I feel more sympathy for their impairment that they can’t help they were born with or “made into”. And the s or p, just like normal people, has choices in life and can make bad choices, but for those struggling to not be so bad, I can see where it would be quite difficult for them and a struggle for them to behave as society expects.



For one, a Sociopath is NOT disordered, and I dare say Sociopaths are amoung the highest ordered amoung us.

They have few anxieties to spend time mulling over, and our culture often accepts or rewards sociopathic behavior. Within much smaller, less competitive cultures, they might be spotted quickly as being dangerous for the tribe and outcast. Any ’primitive tribe’ studies out there? The “disordered” part comes from the fact that they will take risks far beyond what would possibly be rewarding for them ”“ the opposite being the “avoidant” disorder, where one prevents potential reward by taking no risks at all.

And all you genetic biased idiologues, while your bias towards genetic causes over learning & environment are ALMOST AWAYS INCORRECT

The common wisdom amongst the experts appears to be 50/50, and I agree… …until proven otherwise.

Sociopath differentiates himself from the “Psychopath”

Where? In interviews and tests? Personal experience or opinion?

SOS, it’s called “regression toward the mean

In statistics? Or genetics? I’m interested in the opposite. What is it called when the overall genetics within a social species diversifies for advantage? Or further, why did Cro-Magnon surpass Neanderthal?


It is more truthful to claim behavior and learning control genes.

Plasticity. Very interesting. Using software to rewire the hardware? To what degree is this possible in adulthood? Where does one learn more? (But as for the children, still 50/50 nature/nurture, ‘cept in the most extreme cases, until proven otherwise.)

And as an added bonus: I did a little homework. The human evolutionary part of my theory doesn’t jive with a strict biblical creationist perspective, although I believe the spiritual/materialist part will. The whole thing does work with ID, however.


Double bonus: Ever since Liane introduced me to “low moral reasoning ability” (yeah, I know, I’m late to the party) I’ve pondered things similar.

The five people in my family who are least sympathetic to my SS-PTSD situation (out of the 20 or so adults), have all held their same jobs for over 20 years without serious incident. The other 15 are much more understanding and forgiving. Obviously, the five aren’t understanding of what they themselves haven’t experienced. Is this an example of a situational, ’unexercised’ reasoning deficit? To what degree is genetics involved?

Yes, I am the curious one.

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