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Antisocial behavior consists of acts that impose physical or psychological harm on other people or their property. Lying, stealing, assaulting others, being cruel to others, being argumentative, and being sexually promiscuous are all examples of antisocial behavior. Such behavior may sometimes constitute a violation of legal codes, and it is often accompanied by disturbances of thought or emotion. It may be distinguished from delinquency,
Engaging in antisocial behavior poses great risk to an individual's mental and physical health. It puts one at increased risk for alcoholism, cigarette smoking, illegal drug use, high-risk sexual behavior, depression, and for engaging in violent acts towards others and towards the self. The health risks of interpersonal and intrapersonal violence are readily apparent. It is also well known that substance abuse poses serious health hazards through the direct bodily harm that these substances cause, as well as the indirect effects that result from impaired judgment (e.g., automobile accidents, high-risk sexual behavior). Anti-social behavior has additional health consequences by virtue of its relationship with high-risk sexual behavior and depression. High-risk sexual behavior poses life threatening consequences due to the risk of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Depression, though not life threatening itself, is characterized by negative emotional, cognitive, and motivational symptoms; low self-esteem; and a generally diminished quality of life. By placing individuals at risk for these behaviors and conditions, antisocial behavior is clearly associated with undesirable mental and physical health outcomes that may ultimately lead to loss of life.
Amidst the current theories and models that have been advanced to explain the causes of anti-social behavior, three have been particularly useful in their ability to inform prevention and treatment efforts. Coercion theory proposes that antisocial behavior is carried out to force other people to give in to the aversive demands that the individual is imposing. Examples of coercive antisocial behavior include hitting a classmate so that he will stop teasing or having a temper tantrum in response to a parent who refuses to buy candy. The social developmental model hypothesizes that a lack of belief in the moral order, perceived rewards for antisocial interaction and involvement in related behavior, commitment to antisocial lines of action and people, and belief in antisocial values are direct predictors of antisocial behavior. A more general developmental model of child antisocial behavior theorizes that maternal smoking, substance abuse, and poor nutrition during pregnancy are antecedents to the child's antisocial behavior. Thus, this model purports that poor health outcomes are the antecedents, as well as the consequences, of antisocial behavior. This model further hypothesizes that parental style, child characteristics, and characteristics of the school, home, and primary caretaker that occur later in development are antecedents of later antisocial behavior.
Efforts to prevent antisocial behavior are mostly directed at adolescents. The nature of a prevention intervention is based on its underlying theoretical approach and the age group of the individuals being targeted. Interventions that target the prenatal and early childhood environment focus on maternal nutrition, maternal health, smoking reduction, and family problem-solving skills. Interventions that target the family environment seek to facilitate the development of noncoercive discipline, strategies for improving social and educational development, and strategies for improving parental involvement in school and extracurricular activities. Interventions that target the school environment focus on supporting academic success, modifying school environments to inhibit aggressive behavior, increasing academic organization, and teaching positive peer relations. Treatment efforts have largely been based on cognitive-behavioral training, which involves attempts to modify moral reasoning, increase one's ability to take the perspective of another, and to increase frustration tolerance and the ability to resolve interpersonal dilemmas with prosocial solutions. Such treatment also seeks to modify family interactions and create improved parental management and a more positive family atmosphere.
KIMBERLY R. JACOB ARRIOLA
Author Info: KIMBERLY R. JACOB ARRIOLA, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002
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