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  • Toward a Comprehensive Model of Antisocial Development:A Dynamic Systems Approach

    Isabela GranicThe Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto

    Gerald R. PattersonOregon Social Learning Center

    The purpose of this article is to develop a preliminary comprehensive model of antisocial developmentbased on dynamic systems principles. The model is built on the foundations of behavioral research oncoercion theory. First, the authors focus on the principles of multistability, feedback, and nonlinearcausality to reconceptualize real-time parentchild and peer processes. Second, they model the mecha-nisms by which these real-time processes give rise to negative developmental outcomes, which in turnfeed back to determine real-time interactions. Third, they examine mechanisms of change and stabilityin early- and late-onset antisocial trajectories. Finally, novel clinical designs and predictions areintroduced. The authors highlight new predictions and present studies that have tested aspects of themodel.

    An enormous amount of high-quality research has focused onunderstanding the development of antisocial behavior. The studyof aggressive and antisocial development encompasses a largevariety of broad theoretical perspectives (e.g., behavioral, cogni-tive, social) and diverse disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology,epidemiology). The mechanisms that are studied in relation to theemergence and maintenance of antisocial behavior are also varied(e.g., temperament, psychophysiology, parenting, peer relation-ships). Much work has been done to identify the vast array of riskfactors associated with aggressive and antisocial behavior. How-ever, the sheer size of this list. . .betrays the fields lack of abilityto synthesize or to tell a fully coherent story about the developmentand maintenance of externalizing behavior (Hinshaw, 2002, p.435). The purpose of this article is to develop a comprehensivemodel of antisocial development through the application of dy-namic systems (DS) principles. Our model is preliminary andnecessarily incomplete. We acknowledge at the outset that everyrisk factor and causal mechanism that has been empirically tied toantisocial behavior has not been included, but we hope that the DSframework will identify the most important factors and, critically,their relations to each other and suggest explicitly how additionalmechanisms of interest could be integrated within this scheme.

    Our DS model is built on the foundation of behavioral researchin coercion theory. Myriad reviews on the risk factors and devel-opmental outcomes of childhood aggressive and antisocial behav-ior have emphasized the important contribution of coercion theoryto the field (e.g., Dodge & Pettit, 2003; Henggeler, 1997; Hill &

    Maughan, 2001; Hinde & Stevenson-Hinde, 1988; Hinshaw, 2002;Kazdin, 2002; Loeber, Burke, Lahey, Winters, & Zera, 2000;Moffitt, 1993; Offord & Bennett, 1994; Rutter & Giller, 1983).The impact of coercion theory on the development and evaluationof treatment programs is equally evident (Brestan & Eyberg, 1998;Forgatch & DeGarmo, 1999; Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin,Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998; Kazdin, 2000). Coercion theory(Patterson, 1982; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Reid, Patter-son, & Snyder, 2002) was developed by scientists at the OregonSocial Learning Center (OSLC), who began collecting hundredsof observations of parents and children interacting in naturalsettings. In its most basic form, coercion theory is a model ofthe behavioral contingencies that explain how parents andchildren mutually train each other to behave in ways that in-crease the probability that children will develop aggressive behav-ior problems and that parents control over these aversive behav-iors will decrease. These interchanges are characterized byparental demands for compliance, the childs refusal to comply andhis or her escalating complaints, and finally the parents capitula-tion. Coercive interactions are the fundamental behavioral mech-anisms by which aggression emerges and stabilizes overdevelopment.

    Despite its success, coercion theory is limited in scope and hassome gaps that can be effectively addressed through the applica-tion of DS principles. First, coercion theory and other approachesto antisocial development rely on models at two separate timescales: a microsocial (moment-to-moment) scale and a macroso-cial (developmental) scale. The processes by which these real-timeand developmental time processes are linked need to be explainedand explicitly modeled; DS principles concerning interscale rela-tions provide the tools to do so. Second, some of the most impor-tant advances in the field have come from social learning ap-proaches to parenting and peer processes. However, this researchhas been relatively isolated from the burgeoning work on thepsychobiological and cognitiveemotional elements that underlieantisocial development. Some preliminary efforts to link behav-ioral factors with cognitive and emotional variables have beenmade over the last two decades (Capaldi, Forgatch, & Crosby,

    Isabela Granic, The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto;Gerald R. Patterson, Oregon Social Learning Center, Eugene, OR.

    This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant1 R21 MH 67357, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council ofCanada Grant 4102003-1335, and a grant from the Ontario Mental HealthFoundation. We are indebted to Marc Lewis for his meticulous feedbackand many insights on more than one version of this article.

    Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to IsabelaGranic, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto,Ontario M5G 1X8, Canada. E-mail: [email protected]

    Psychological Review Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association2006, Vol. 113, No. 1, 101131 0033-295X/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.113.1.101


  • 1994; Forgatch & Stoolmiller, 1994; Snyder, Stoolmiller, Wilson,& Yamamoto, 2003), but much remains to be done. DS principlesprovide a systematic framework for bridging levels of analysis andhence reconciling these domains more thoroughly. Finally, al-though some longitudinal research on antisocial development at-tempts to address both stability and change in pathways (e.g., childonset vs. adolescent onset and trajectories that lead to no furtheroffending), the empirical focus has been largely on stability ormaintenance mechanisms (but see Patterson, 1993, 2002). Yet, bydefinition, a developmental theory needs to provide explanations(not just descriptions) of change as well as stability (Patterson,1993; Thelen & Ulrich, 1991). This is particularly important for atheory that stipulates directions for prevention and intervention.DS principles point to mechanisms of change and stability andsuggest analytic strategies for measuring these mechanisms.

    Our main goal is to demonstrate the promise of the DS approachin providing a framework that can integrate disparate findings andoffer an explanatory level of modeling that is often missing inother approaches (Hinshaw, 2002). For decades, DS principleshave been successfully applied by theorists such as Esther Thelen(e.g., Thelen & Smith, 1994) and Alan Fogel (e.g., 1993) touncover explanatory processes in normative development; follow-ing this tradition, we aim to apply these same principles to thedevelopment of psychopathology in general and antisocial behav-ior in particular. Our most optimistic hope is that we can providea model that is detailed and compelling enough to inspire otherinvestigators to use the DS scaffold to elaborate their own modelsof antisocial development, perhaps leading to an eventual conver-gence. To meet our goal, we begin by providing a brief overviewof DS principles. Following this review are two main sections: onefocuses on real-time family and peer processes, and the otherfocuses on these same processes over developmental time. In eachsection, we summarize past research findings, discuss how a DSapproach extends our understanding of the data, and specify newpredictions that emerge from our model. Throughout the article,we enumerate the specific hypotheses that emerge from our mod-eling efforts both as an organizing device and as a guide toongoing and future research. Whenever possible, to illustrate theempirical feasibility of these new directions, we review studies thathave begun to test DS-based propositions and highlight the uniqueinsights they afford. We conclude by discussing a number ofclinical implications as well as novel designs that have the poten-tial to further inform theory development.

    DS Principles Relevant for Socialization Processes

    For many psychologists, particularly developmentalists, systemsapproaches are not new. In fact, developmental psychopathologistshave come to adopt an organismic, holistic, transactional frame-work for conceptualizing individual differences in normal andatypical development (e.g., Cicchetti, 1993; Cummings, Davies, &Campbell, 2000; Garmezy & Rutter, 1983; Sameroff, 1983, 1995;Sroufe & Rutter, 1984). These scholars often frame their models interms of organizational principles and systems language. Thesystems theories that inform their models include general systemstheory (Sameroff, 1983, 1995; von Bertalanffy, 1968), develop-mental systems theory (Ford & Lerner, 1992), the ecologicalframework (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), contextualism (Dixon &Lerner, 1988), the transactional perspective (Dumas, LaFreniere,

    & Serketich, 1995), the organizational approach (Cicchetti &Schneider-Rosen, 1986; Erickson, Egeland, & Pianta, 1989; Gar-mezy, 1974; Sroufe & Rutter, 1984), the holisticinteractionisticview (Bergman & Magnusson, 1997), and the epigenetic view(Gottlieb, 1991, 1992). As a class of models, these approac