Psychological Medicine

Research Article

Sturdy childhood predictors of adult antisocial behaviour: replications from longitudinal studies1

Lee N. Robinsa1 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA


Results are compared in studies of 4 male cohorts – 1 all white, 1 all black, and 2 racially representative of the population – growing up in different eras, followed past varying portions of their adult lives, living in different parts of the US. Despite sample differences and differences in sources of information and in the variables used to measure both childhood predictors and adult outcomes, some striking replications appear with respect to childhood predictors of adult antisocial behaviour. All types of antisocial behaviour in childhood predict a high level of antisocial behaviour in adulthood and each kind of adult antisocial behaviour is predicted by the number of childhood antisocial behaviours, indicating that adult and childhood antisocial behaviour both form syndromes and that these syndromes are closely interconnected. Also confirmed across studies are: (1) adult antisocial behaviour virtually requires childhood antisocial behaviour; (2) most antisocial children do not become antisocial adults; (3) the variety of antisocial behaviour in childhood is a better predictor of adult antisocial behaviour than is any particular behaviour; (4) adult antisocial behaviour is better predicted by childhood behaviour than by family background or social class of rearing; (5) social class makes little contribution to the prediction of serious adult antisocial behaviour.


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Lee N. Robins, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, 4940 Audubon Avenue, St Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


1 This paper was originally presented as the Paul Hoch Award Lecture, American Psychopathological Association Meeting, Boston, March 1978. It will be included as a chapter in Stress and Mental Disorders edited by J. E. Barrett, R. M. Rose and G. L. Klerman, to be published in January 1979 by Raven Press, New York.