Vol. 7, No. 4, 2001 Page 3

'Difficult' toddlers at risk of becoming criminal adults

While sociological theories link criminal behavior to adverse life experiences, studies continue to show that many violent or criminal individuals begin exhibiting aberrant behavior in toddlerhood—evidence suggesting that inborn temperament plays a more powerful role than societal factors.

In the most recent study, Jim Stevenson and Robert Goodman evaluated 828 subjects randomly selected from a study population originally assessed at age three in 1969 and 1970. Of these subjects, 81 had subsequently been convicted of crimes (and 26 of violent crimes) committed in adulthood.

The researchers found that the risk of being convicted of a crime in adulthood was significantly linked to temper tantrums, bedwetting and soiling, overactivity, poor concentration, lower social competence, and an inability to get along with siblings in toddlerhood. "The more pronounced these problems," Stevenson and Goodman say, "the more likely the child would develop violent tendencies." Conversely, family and social circumstances at three years did not correlate with later criminal convictions.

The researchers caution that levels of offending were low in their sampling, and that tantrums and other problems in toddlerhood, while possibly indicators of increased risk for criminality, do not predict criminal behavior.


"Association between behaviour at age 3 years and adult criminality," Jim Stevenson and Robert Goodman, British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 179, July 2001, 197-202. Address: Jim Stevenson, Centre for Research into Psychological Development, Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 IBJ, UK.

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"Tantrums linked to violence in later life," UK Telegraph, September 1, 2001.

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