Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

How can the study of biological processes help design new interventions for children with severe antisocial behavior?

Stephanie H. M. van Goozena1 c1 and Graeme Fairchilda2

a1 Cardiff University

a2 Cambridge University


Children with severe antisocial behavior have an increased risk of showing violently aggressive and other forms of problem behavior in adolescence and adulthood. It is well established that both biological and social factors are involved in the development of antisocial behavior. The primary aim of this paper is to discuss the evidence that specific neurobiological systems are involved in the etiology of childhood-onset antisocial behavior. These factors are responsible for the severity of the behavioral problems observed in antisocial children, but they also play a role in their persistence, because they influence children's interactions with their environment. We will discuss the possible causes of disruptions in neurobiological systems in childhood antisocial behavior and point out the implications of these findings for theory and clinical practice. We will argue that familial factors (e.g., genetic influences, early childhood adversity) are linked to negative behavioral outcomes (e.g., antisocial behavior problems) through the mediating and transactional interplay with neurobiological deficits. An investigation of neurobiological functioning in antisocial children might not only indicate which children are most likely to persist in engaging in severe antisocial behavior, but also guide the development of new interventions.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stephanie H. M. van Goozen, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Tower Building, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK; E-mail:


Preparation of this paper was supported by a project grant from the Wellcome Trust and an Economic and Social Research Council grant (to S.H.M.v.G.).