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Keywords:

  • Antisocial behavior;
  • empathy;
  • concern for others;
  • disregard for others

Background:  Prediction of antisocial behavior is important, given its adverse impact on both the individuals engaging in antisocial behavior and society. Additional research identifying early predictors of future antisocial behavior, or antisocial propensity, is needed. The present study tested the hypothesis that both concern for others and active disregard for others in distress in toddlers and young children predict antisocial behavior during middle childhood and adolescence.

Methods:  A representative sample of same-sex twins (N = 956) recruited in Colorado was examined. Mother-rated and researcher-observed concern and disregard for others assessed at age 14–36 months were examined as predictors of parent- (age 4–12), teacher- (age 7–12), and self-reported (age 17) antisocial behavior.

Results:  Observed disregard for others predicted antisocial behavior assessed by three different informants (parents, teachers, and self), including antisocial behavior assessed 14 years later. It also predicted a higher order antisocial behavior factor (β = .58, p < .01) after controlling for observed concern for others. Mother-rated disregard for others predicted parent-reported antisocial behavior. Contrary to predictions, neither mother-rated nor observed concern for others inversely predicted antisocial behavior. Results of twin analyses suggested that the covariation between observed disregard for others and antisocial behavior was due to shared environmental influences.

Conclusions:  Disregard for others in toddlerhood/early childhood is a strong predictor of antisocial behavior in middle childhood and adolescence. The results suggest the potential need for early assessment of disregard for others and the development of potential interventions.