Developmental Theories of Parental Contributors to Antisocial Behavior


Daniel S. Shaw                              Richard Q. Bell

University of Pittsburgh                  University of Virginia

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (1993)



In view of the increased interest in a developmental approach to psychopathology, and mounting evidence of the importance of parent-child interaction in the etiology of early antisocial behavior, the following questions were posed for this review. What theories of parent-child relationships and family management techniques are available, how developmental are they, how specific and transactional are they relative to parent and child behaviors involved, and how well do they cover the period in which antisocial behavior develops? Six theories have some developmental features but the attachment theories (Sroufe & Egeland; Greenberg) and two social learning theories (Patterson and Martin) are most clearly developmental. They postulate reciprocal interactions of parent and child, and transformations in the form of normative changes in the child or changes in family processes. The social learning theories of Patterson and Martin are most specific, microanalytic in fact, as to the interaction processes involved, and the attachment theories at least specify kinds of behavior involved and also do not rely on traits or types of influence as their units of analysis. Conceptualization is most weak and overly general between late infancy and the preschool years. This gap makes it difficult to link attachment and social learning theories, both of which have driven a large number of studies. A bridging theory is offered to link the two sets of theories in the critical period involved.