Understanding the Causal Pathways of Violent Behavior: The Contribution of Prenatal Factors, Cognitive Functioning, and Behavior Problems to Violent Offending

Eric Olson, Northeastern University
Heather L. Couture, Northeastern University
Michael G. Turner, Northeastern University
Alex R. Piquero, University of Florida

While important information has been gleaned about the risk factors associated with violence, the causal process that links early life events to violence in late adolescence is not well understood. Research investigating this issue has generally been restricted to a focus on one gender, one racial group, non high-risk settings, and oftentimes does not capture a significant portion of the life course linking infancy to late adolescence. Moreover, previous efforts have focused on collecting measures of violence from official sources; therefore, information from self-reports of violent offending have been absent in this line of research. To overcome these limitations, we build and extend previous research findings by utilizing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The data we examine contain key predictors that are presumed to form the causal process linking early prenatal events to violent offending in late adolescence. To model the causal process, we employ structural equation modeling and also perform a series of multiple-group estimations to assess the extent to which the causal process operates in a similar manner across groups defined by race and gender. The theoretical and policy implications of this research are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006