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Antisocial behaviour

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Antisocial behaviour

Not to be confused with Asociality.

Anti-social behavior is behaviour that lacks consideration for others and may cause damage to the society, whether intentionally or through negligence. This is opposed to pro-social behaviour, which is behaviour that helps or benefits the society.[1] Criminal and civil laws in various countries attempt to offer remedies for anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour is labelled as such when it is deemed contrary to prevailing norms for social conduct. This encompasses a large spectrum of actions. Murder, rape, use of illegal substances, and a wide variety of activities are deemed anti-social behaviours. In addition to actions that oppose established law, anti-social actions also include activities that members of society find objectionable even if they are legal, such as drunkenness and sexual promiscuity.[2]

In psychiatry, particularly in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, persistent anti-social behaviour is part of a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder (ASPD).[3] The ICD-10 defines a conceptually similar dissocial personality disorder.[4]


Anti-social behavior is any sort of behaviour that goes against the norms that society has placed. Many different types of extreme anti-social behaviours have been documented and observed including aggression to those around them, cruelty, violence, scam, theft, arson and vandalism. Other lesser traits that could be considered anti-social are noncompliance, lying, intimidating, manipulation, and other activities such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Social development

Intent and discrimination may determine both pro- and anti-social behaviour. Infants may act in seemingly anti-social ways and yet be generally accepted as too young to know the difference before the age of 4 or 5.[1] In preschool, children who have an increase in aggression is normal. Lack of aggression may lead to depression and anxiety later in life; however, continued aggression can indicate problems. Persistent anti-social behaviour may lead to ASPD. Berger states that parents should teach their children that "emotions need to be regulated, not repressed".[5]

In utero

Studies done by Dutch scientists have shown a direct link to maternal malnutrition during a fetus's development in utero can lead to the development of ASPD. The development of much of the brain is active during the first two trimesters. Mothers who were not able to get proper nutrients during this time were directly affecting the brain development of their child. This lack of development increased the chance that a child would be affected by ASPD. Implications of this information are very large as most mothers who live in poverty or in third world countries are often not able to seek proper nutrients, which, based on this study, will lead to many of these children becoming delinquents.


It is often found that children who are abused are more likely to develop Anti-social behaviors later in life. This abuse often teaches children that violence is acceptable, and leads to the formation of their own violent tendencies and an increased aggressive drive. Being abused as a child does not mean that one will automatically develop ASPD; instead, a study by Luntz and Widom, showed that within a study only 7% of the people interviewed could actually be considered to have ASPD. Other factors such a self perseverance, biological conditions, and social status most likely also had an effect on whether or not ASPD developed.


Adolescents may break social norms as a way to escape parental and other societal pressures. Other components, such as friend groups, may promote anti-social behavior through peer pressure.


It is believed that certain personality characteristics are passed down from genes. This can be seen in a child’s temperament as they are born. Certain traits that are dominant in people who conduct anti-social behaviour are pronounced in a child’s temperament.

Signs and symptoms

Aggression and cruelty are common. Onset of childhood aggression called conduct disorder is seen in children. Different types of abuse are present, such as (physical) abuse of spouses or others as well as substance abuse. A sign of aggression is also bullying, neglect, and frequently behaving with irritability and anger, often engaging in fights with others. Impulsivity is also common, with failure to think ahead, or of consequences, performing actions with little or no regret or thought. Self-image issues are also common. Those with anti-social behaviors represent an arrogant attitude, and are often egocentric with a lack of concern when hurting others. Breaking rules and frequent run-ins with the law are common, in addition to repeatedly violating rights of others, continuous deceit and manipulation.


Anti-social personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is described by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition (DSM-IV-TR), as an Axis II personality disorder characterized by "... a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood."[6] A person usually is not diagnosed until after age 18, and must represent symptoms from an early age.[6] This disorder can be difficult to diagnose and treat since people with anti-social behaviours would not seek care, or listen to others. It may take a court mandate for people to seek treatment they need. Diagnosis is done by a trained mental health professional.


Main article: Anti-Social Behaviour Order

An anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) is a civil order made against a person who has been shown, on the balance of evidence, to have engaged in anti-social behaviour. The orders, introduced in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998,[7] were designed to criminalize minor incidents that would not have warranted prosecution before.[8]

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines anti-social behaviour as acting in a manner that has "caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household" as the perpetrator. There has been debate concerning the vagueness of this definition.[9] The Act introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour Order ("ASBO"), a civil order that can result in a jail sentence of up to five years if the terms are breached. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are civil sanctions, effective for a minimum of two years and classed as criminal proceedings for funding purposes due to restrictions they place on individual liberty. An Anti-Social Behaviour Order does not give the offender a criminal record, but sets conditions prohibiting the offender from specific anti-social acts or entering into defined areas. Breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order is, however, a criminal offence.

In 2003 the Anti-Social Behaviour Act amended the original Act and introduced further sanctions such as Child Curfews and Dispersal Orders.

The following list sets out what behaviour the UK police classify as anti-social:[10]

  • Substance misuse such as glue sniffing
  • Drinking alcohol on the streets
  • Problems related to animals such as not properly restraining animals in public places
  • Begging
  • Prostitution related activity such as curb crawling and loitering
  • Abandoned vehicles that may or may not be stolen
  • Vehicle nuisance such as "cruises" – revving car engines, racing, wheel spinning and horn sounding.
  • Noise coming from business or industry
  • Noise coming from alarms
  • Noise coming from pubs and clubs
  • Environmental damage such as graffiti and littering
  • Inappropriate use of fireworks
  • Inappropriate use of public space such as disputes among neighbours, rowdy or inconsiderate behaviour
  • General drunken behaviour (which is rowdy or inconsiderate)
  • Hoax calls to the emergency services
  • Pubs or clubs serving alcohol after hours
  • Malicious communication
  • Hate incidents where abuse involves race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability
  • Firearms incidents such as use of an imitation weapon.

In a survey conducted by University College London during May 2006, the UK was thought by respondents to be Europe's worst country for anti-social behaviour, with 76% believing Britain had a "big or moderate problem".[11]


Anti-social behaviour is hard to treat, but therapy has been shown to be effective in people with this behaviour. This decreases their engagement in the behaviour or repeating the behaviours. People with this disorder may not even want treatment or think they need treatment. Since anti-social behaviours are a way of being, not a condition, affected people are likely to need close, long-term care and follow-up. Therapy is the main way to treat this behaviour rather than medications.


Cognitive behavioural therapy helps to uncover the person's negative and destructive behaviours and to learn new positive ones. The therapy works on the way that people think which leads them to perform certain behaviours.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy attempts to uncover the unconscious motives and aggression in a person. This helps to get at the root of the reason for the disruptive behaviours.


In some cases, anti-social symptoms and behaviours are severe enough to require hospitalization. Hospitalization may be needed for someone who acts in self-harming behaviours or is in danger of also harming others. Hospitalization options include 24-hour inpatient care, partial or day hospitalization, or residential treatment, which offers a supportive place to live.


Helps to treat comorbid disorders in a person. It is intended to relieve depression or anxiety in an anti-social person. There is no medicine that treats anti-social behaviour itself.

Examples in society


Due to the increased aggressive drives and extreme narcissism, bullying is a classic case of anti-social behaviour. A bully’s narcissistic feelings gives them a sense of superiority, while their aggressive drive usually enables them to go out and act on their narcissistic impulses. Many believe that bullying is only something that occurs in schools; however, it is known to happen in many adult situations as well, such as in the workplace. In most cases bullying remains as verbal abuse, yet different degrees of aggression can lead to different degrees of reactions, and therefore it is possible for violence to occur.

Alcohol abuse

People with anti-social behaviours are more likely to develop problems with alcohol. Studies link alcoholism with aggression, and people with anti-social behaviour are more susceptible to alcohol-related aggression. Since those with anti-social behaviour have a disregard for the laws and act in self-harming behaviour, alcohol abuse would fit into this characteristic. Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey surveyed 20,291 people who met the DSM criteria for anti-social behaviour and found they were 21 times more likely to abuse alcohol during their lives than the people who did not meet the anti-social behaviour (Regier et al. 1990).

Disregard for others

Neglect of responsibilities and theft are common, with tendency to shoplift or steal others' property, in addition to defying authority types such as teachers, parents, and police. The stereotypical business man who will do "anything to get to the top" is an example of a person that shows characteristics of anti-social behaviours. They engage or facilitate in illegal actions, pushing past others to get ahead, and performing unethical actions for their own self-fulfilling ends.

Serial killers

A pattern has been discovered within serial killers that have been caught. After a great depth of psychological testing it has been discovered that most serial killers conduct a great deal of anti-social behaviour. As a child they are often engaging in violent acts such as hurting fellow children or animals. Some serial killers, including Ted Bundy, have been speculated as having ASPD, of which persistent anti-social behaviour is a trait.[12][13]


Many of the studies regarding the media's influence on anti-social behaviour have been deemed inconclusive. The violence, racism, sexism, and other anti-social acts are attributed to things such as genetic predisposition and violence in the home. Some reviews have found strong correlations between aggression and the viewing of violent media (Anderson, 2007) while others find little evidence to support their case (Sherry, 2007). The only unanimously accepted truth regarding anti-social behaviour is that parental guidance carries an undoubtedly strong influence; Providing children with brief negative evaluations of violent characters helps to reduce violent effects in the individual (Nathanson, 2004).

See also



Further reading

  • Judith and Martin Land, Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child, ISBN 978-1-60494-571-3, Wheatmark Publishing, 2011, pages 43, 91, 268-269, state that antisocial behaviour is a characteristic highly common among children who are orphaned, fostered, or adopted. Adopted parents may be prone to address psychological trauma by denying personal responsibility for insecurities and antisocial behaviour exhibited by their adopted children by placing all of the blame for their undesirable behaviours on the birth parents. To be an adoptee in the twenty-first century does not carry the same stigma that it did a generation ago, but many adoptees are still prone to act out their frustrations and hostilities through destructive antisocial behaviour. A consequence to society is the abnormally high number of adopted children involved in crime and drugs, which is strikingly higher than the average population. Social workers, medical doctors, and clergy seldom inform birth mothers that their children, if given to strangers for adoption, will have a high possibility of exhibiting selective mutism, oppositional defiant disorder, separation syndrome, and other unstable qualities. They are also more likely to exhibit antisocial behaviour.
  • Williamson, P. (2007). Ratings and their reasons: An investigation of the efficiency, application and unin-tended consequences of the Motion Picture Associa-tion of America’s film rating system. Dissertation, Michigan State University.
  • Patchin, J. W., & Hinduza, S. (2006). Bullies move beyond the schoolyard. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148–169.
  • Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorelli, N. (1994). Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Signorelli, N. (2003). Prime-time violence 1993–2001: Has the picture really changed? Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(1), 36–58.

External links

  • Anti-Social
  • New York Times

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