Development and Psychopathology


Developmental considerations in the investigation of conduct disorder1

Dante Cicchettia1 and John E. Richtersa2

a1 Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester

a2 Child and Adolescent Disorders Research Branch, National Institute of Mental Health

The papers in this special issue attest to the theoretical and empirical advances that have been made in understanding the epidemiology, subtypes, etiology, neuropsychology, psychobiology, course, consequences, prevention, and treatment of conduct disorder (CD) (see also Kazdin, 1987; Loeber, 1990; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Moffitt, 1990; Patterson, 1982; Robins, 1991; White, Moffitt, Earls, Robins, & Silva, 1990). A number of theoretical conceptualizations have been forwarded in an attempt to comprehend this complex form of disorder in children. Such divergence in thinking indicates that the topic of CD has evolved into an active and significant domain of inquiry. To date, however, there has been no unifying theoretical framework for bringing conceptual clarity to the diverse perspectives represented in the study of conduct disorder. Although existing work within particular disciplines and subdisciplines has provided substantial contributions to our understanding of CD, these accounts typically have not considered the broader matrix of complex and evolving biological, cognitive, socioemotional, representational, and social-cognitive capacities of the developing child. As a consequence, disparate theoretical formulations are often too narrow in focus to address the range of processes and mechanisms that will be necessary to explain adequately how and why manifestations of CD emerge, change overtime and are influenced by children's developmental levels.


1. We use the term conduct disorder throughout this paper to refer to the behavioral syndrome defined by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (3rd ed., rev.) diagnostic criteria and suspend judgment about the assumption of an underlying mental disorder (see Richters & Cicchetti, 1993 [this issue]).