Term Paper: Antisocial Behavior in Females

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[. . .] Girls and Antisocial Behavior

For year, society has placed most of its attention on aggression in children on boys. Most people assume that boys are more aggressive because their forms of aggression are more visible. Teacher see them fighting in school and displaying other signs of aggression. For this reason, much of the research on aggressive children, particularly regarding CD and ADHD, has focused on the more overt, physical types of aggression characteristics of boys.

According to Crick and Grotpeter (1995, p. 710), much of this research has overlooked aggressive behavior in girls because the patterns of aggression in girls are different than in boys. This is why there is so much more research on boys. While most definitions of aggression include behaviors that aim to hurt or harm others, this study suggested that aggression also includes behaviors that "best thwart or damage goals that are valued by their respective gender peer groups" (p. 710).

In this light, boys tend to harm others with physical or verbal aggression because this behavior is consistent with the physical dominance goals of boys. Girls, however, are more likely to focus their aggression on relational issues because this behavior is consistent with the social and intimacy goals of girls. This kind of aggression, which is called "relational aggression" is more characteristic of girls, though not exclusive to girls, and is done with the intention of damaging another child's friendship or feelings of inclusion within a social group (p. 711).

Still, despite the fact that the aggression shown by girls is less obvious than aggression shown by boys, it still shows a need for intervention. Girls' relational aggression can include excluding another child from a clique as a form of retaliation, intentionally hurting or controlling a child, and spreading rumors about a child (p. 711). These patterns are indicative of CD and comorbid ADHD.

In most cases, this type of behavior is cause for concern. Most aggressive girls have more social and emotional problems and experience more loneliness, depression, negative self-perceptions, and peer rejection than others. They are also more likely to engage in antisocial behavior and have problems with authority and the law.

Breakthrough in Research

Recently, psychologist Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD, published two studies the focused on ADHD in girls last October, and females with ADHD finally began receiving long overdue attention from researchers (Crawford, 2003). Hinshaw was one of the first psychologists to study the disorder as it related to girls. The majority of prior studies focused on comparing girls to boys -- using the ADHD symptoms for boys as the marker against which girls should be measured.

However, Hinshaw's research revealed "that girls experience significant struggles that are often overlooked because their ADHD symptoms bear little resemblance to those of boys (Crawford, 2003)."

Historically, research on ADHD has focused almost exclusively on hyperactive little boys, and only in the past six or seven years has any research focused on adult ADHD," according to psychologist Kathleen Nadeau, an expert on the disorder in women and director of Chesapeake Psychological Services of Maryland in Silver Spring (Crawford, 2003). "And the recognition of females [with the disorder] has lagged even further behind."

This sudden recognition of girls with ADHD is due to current diagnostic criteria, which remain more appropriate for males than females, and to parent and teacher referral patterns, which are sparked by the more obvious and more problematic male ADHD behaviors. Many people deny that the disorder exists in females at all.

The reason that this topic is so important is that the consequences later in life are grim: Girls with undiagnosed ADHD are likely to carry their problems into adulthood, and left untreated, their lives can fall apart.

Girls with untreated ADHD are at risk for chronic low self-esteem, underachievement, anxiety, depression, teen pregnancy, early smoking during middle school and high school," says Nadeau (Crawford, 2003).

As adults, they're at risk for "divorce, financial crises, single-parenting a child with ADHD, never completing college, underemployment, substance abuse, eating disorders and constant stress due to difficulty in managing the demands of daily life -- which overflow into the difficulties of their children, 50% of whom are likely to have ADHD as well," Nadeau comments (Crawford, 2003).

More research on gender issues in ADHD is needed for several reasons, says Julia J. Rucklidge, PhD, assistant psychology professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, who has studied ADHD in Canadian women (Crawford, 2003). "We can't make assumptions that what applies to males will apply to females -- females have different hormonal influences to start with that can greatly affect their behavior."

In addition, Rucklidge says, females are socialized differently and therefore tend to express themselves in a different manner, and are more susceptible to such problems as depression or anxiety that again influence behavior. This suggests that ADHD "will manifest and express itself differently in females," she adds. "But only research can tell us this definitively. Until then, these are assumptions that we make."


More than half of all children with CD have comorbid ADHD (Lexcen and Redding, 2000). Nearly half also suffer from depression or anxiety disorder. Children with CD and comorbid ADHD are more likely to commit crime and are at higher risks for suicide. These children are also more likely to experiment with drugs.

These facts represent serious behavior problems. Most children with these problems are referred to a psychologist by the juvenile justice system, usually as a condition of probation, after committing a serious crime. However, many females are not diagnosed with CD or comorbid ADHD, as psychologists are attempting to diagnose these conditions based on male-dominated research.

As a result, these conditions are often untreated in females, and a large percentage continues to show evidence of antisocial behavior into adulthood, with some developing into antisocial personality disorders. This can lead to a lifetime of social adjustment problems, with frequent arrests and periods of incarceration. Research tells us that aggressive behavior during childhood predicts later social adjustment problems. While boys and girls may exhibit their aggression and antisocial behaviors in different ways, the effects can be equally damaging.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Disgnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington DC APA.

Clark, Duncan. Vanyukov, Michael. Cornelius, Jack. (November, 2002). Childhood Antisocial Behavior and Adolescent Alcohol Use Disorders. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: 66, 136-138.

Crawford, Nicole. (February, 2003). ADHD: a women's issue. Monitor on Psychology, APA: Volume 34, No. 2, p. 28.

Hinshaw, S.P. (2003). Preadolescent girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: I. Background characteristics, comorbidity, cognitive and social functioning, and parenting practices. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Lexcen, Fran. Redding, Richard. (2000). Mental Health Needs of Juvenile Offenders. Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 97-JE-FX-0051.

Offord, D. Bennett, K. (1994).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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