Development and Psychopathology

Developmental pathways to antisocial behavior: The delayed-onset pathway in girls

a1 University of Alabama


Recent research has suggested that there are two distinct trajectories for the development of antisocial behavior in boys: a childhood-onset pathway and an adolescent-onset pathway. After reviewing the limited available research on antisocial girls, we propose that this influential method of conceptualizing the development of severe antisocial behavior may not apply to girls without some important modifications. Antisocial girls appear to show many of the correlates that have been associated with the childhood-onset pathway in boys, and they tend to show impaired adult adjustment, which is also similar to boys in the childhood-onset pathway. However, antisocial girls typically show an adolescent-onset to their antisocial behavior. We have proposed that these girls show a third developmental pathway which we have labeled the “delayed-onset” pathway. This model rests on the assumption that many of the putative pathogenic mechanisms that contribute to the development of antisocial behavior in girls, such as cognitive and neuropsychological deficits, a dysfunctional family environment, and/or the presence of a callous and unemotional interpersonal style, may be present in childhood, but they do not lead to severe and overt antisocial behavior until adolescence. Therefore, we propose that the delayed-onset pathway for girls is analogous to the childhood-onset pathway in boys and that there is no analogous pathway in girls to the adolescent-onset pathway in boys. Although this model clearly needs to be tested in future research, it highlights the need to test the applicability of current theoretical models for explaining the development of antisocial behavior in girls.

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Persephanie Silverthorn, Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, P.O. Box 311280, Denton, TX 76203; E-mail: