The overarching goal of this research paper was to examine the association between aggression displayed early in life and acts of criminal violence committed during adolescence and adulthood. This discussion led to five key points. First, there is now a rich line of empirical research indicating that the use of aggression peaks during childhood, typically around age 3 years. Second, although the use of aggression usually wanes by late childhood, and is not a predictor of future criminal behavior, most violent offenders have long histories of aggression that can be traced back to early childhood. Third, aggressive behaviors are relatively stable, even across very lengthy periods of time. Fourth, the traditional age–crime curve that captures the ebb and flow of official delinquency in adolescence is complemented by a similar age–crime curve that captures the ebb and flow of aggression during early childhood. Fifth, research has revealed that the most effective intervention programs focus on at-risk families and implement prevention programs immediately after conception. In general, the earlier interventions are established, the larger the reduction in antisocial outcomes.
These findings have important implications for criminologists and for the criminal justice system. To begin with, less attention needs to be paid to offending during adolescence, and more attention needs to be expended on examining the development of aggression in childhood. As it stands now, mainstream criminological research typically fails to study this important section of the life course and usually focuses narrowly on adolescence and adulthood. However, as an abundance of research outside of criminology has shown, childhood is perhaps the key stage of the life course in terms of the etiology of violent offending. More and more research needs to be directed at unpacking the development of aggression during childhood. Focusing research efforts on childhood advance the understanding of the causes and correlates of crime and delinquency. This important knowledge base then can be used to develop early intervention programs that are based on and guided by methodologically rigorous research findings.
The development of criminal behavior, as this research paper has discussed, is complex, involving a multitude of factors that interlock across time and space. To gain a complete picture of what causes offending behaviors to emerge, how they develop, and why they are stable is a daunting yet exciting enterprise. Insight into these issues is most likely to be garnered from research that takes an interdisciplinary approach and examines environmental and genetic influences on human behavior across the entire life course.
- Benson, M. L. (2002). Crime and the life course: An introduction. Los Angeles: Roxbury Press.
- Cairns, R. B., & Cairns, B. D. (1994). Lifelines and risks: Pathways of youth in our time. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- DeLisi, M. (2005). Career criminals in society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- DeLisi, M., & Conis, P. (Eds.). (2008). Violent offenders: Theory, research, public policy, and practice. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.
- Farrington, D. P., & Coid, J. W. (Eds.). (2003). Early prevention of adulthood antisocial behaviour. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Farrington, D. P., & Welsh, B. C. (2007). Saving children from a life of crime: Early risk factors and effective interventions. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Karr-Morse, R., &Wiley, M. S. (1997). Ghosts from the nursery: Tracing the roots of violence. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
- Moffitt, T. E. (1990). The neuropsychology of juvenile delinquency: A critical review. In M. Tonry & N. Morris (Eds.), Crime and justice: An annual review of research (pp. 99–169). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100, 674–701.
- Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Rutter, M., & Silva, P. A. (2001). Sex differences in antisocial behaviour: Conduct disorder, delinquency, and violence in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Olds, D. (2007). Preventing crime with prenatal and infancy support of parents: The nurse–family partnership. Victims and Offenders, 2, 205–225.
- Olweus, D. (1979). Stability of aggressive reaction patterns in males: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 852–875.
- Piquero, A. R., Farrington, D. P., & Blumstein, A. (2007). Key issues in criminal career research: New analyses of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Schweinhart, L. J. (2007). Crime prevention by the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Victims & Offenders, 2, 141–160.
- Shover, N. (1996). Great pretenders: Pursuits and careers of persistent thieves. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Stoff, D. M., & Cairns, R. B. (Eds.). (1996). Aggression and violence: Genetic, neurobiological, and biosocial perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Tremblay, R. E. (2000). The development of aggressive behavior during childhood: What have we learned in the past century? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 24, 129–141.
- Tremblay, R. E. (2006). Prevention of youth violence: Why not start at the beginning? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 481–487.
- Tremblay, R. E., Hartup, W. W., & Archer, J. (Eds.). (2005). Developmental origins of aggression. New York: Guilford Press.
- Tremblay, R. E., Japel, C., Perusse, D., McDuff, P., Boivin, M., Zoccolillo, M., & Montplaisir, J. (1999). The search for the age of “onset” of physical aggression: Rousseau and Bandura revisited. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 9, 8–23.
- Walsh, A., & Beaver, K. M. (Eds.). (2008). Biosocial criminology: New directions in theory and research. New York: Routledge Press.
- Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985). Crime and human nature: The definitive study of the causes of crime. New York: Free Press.
- Wright, J. P., Tibbetts, S. G., & Daigle, L. E. (2008). Criminals in the making: Criminality across the life course. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.