Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 651–661 | Cite as

The Phenomenology of Non-Aggressive Antisocial Behavior During Childhood

  • S. Alexandra BurtEmail author
  • M. Brent Donnellan
  • Brooke L. Slawinski
  • Kelly L. Klump


Although the phenomenology of overt or aggressive antisocial behavior during childhood is well-documented, far less is known about covert or non-aggressive, rule-breaking (RB) antisocial behavior. Gaps in knowledge include issues as basic as RB’s typical symptom presentation during childhood and which symptoms differ across sex. The current study sought to fill these gaps in the literature by establishing the prevalence and psychometric properties of specific RB behaviors in a sample of 1022 twin boys and 1010 twin girls between the ages of 6 and 10 years. Legal RB behaviors (e.g., breaking rules, swears, lying or cheating) were present to varying degrees in most children, regardless of whether or not they passed the clinical threshold for RB. They were also more common in boys than in girls regardless of their clinical status. In sharp contrast, illegal RB behaviors (e.g., stealing, vandalism, setting fires) were rarely observed in typically-developing children, but were seen at moderate levels in boys and girls with clinically-significant levels of RB. Moreover, sex differences in illegal RB behaviors were observed only for those youth with clinically meaningful levels of RB. Such findings collectively imply that while legal RB behaviors can be found (albeit at different frequencies) in children with and without clinically meaningful levels of RB, illegal RB behaviors may function as relatively ‘unambiguous’ indicator of clinically-significant levels of RB.


Non-aggressive rule-breaking Antisocial behavior Children 



This project was supported by R01-MH081813 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and by R01-HD066040 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIMH, the NICHD, or the National Institutes of Health. The authors thank all participating twins and their families for making this work possible.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Alexandra Burt
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. Brent Donnellan
    • 2
  • Brooke L. Slawinski
    • 1
  • Kelly L. Klump
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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