Stability can be defined as any constant behavior or interaction style over time (Wright, Tibbetts & Daigle, 2008). The two main components of stability are time and consistency. In order to measure behavioral stability, criminologists usually turn to one of three information sources. Official records are able to provide information about behaviors that have come to the attention of some form of authority figure, such as arrest records or medical records. Direct observation is a popular method of studying behavior favored by psychologists. This method usually involves observing a group of subjects while they engage in normal activities or specified tasks. The last method, self-reports, is the most popular form of studying stability. Self-reports require an individual to make statements or answer questions about their past behavior.
Aggression has been shown to be one of the strongest indicators of future criminal behavior (Wright et al., 2008). There have been a number of hypotheses proposed and tested in regards to youth behavior and subsequent adult misconduct. First, it has been shown that youth who shown high levels of antisocial attitudes and behaviors are likely to display those some characteristics as adults. In addition, youth who show low levels of antisocial attitudes and behaviors are equally as likely to display the same low levels as adults. Research has shown that most of the stability shown throughout the life course has a strong genetic component with additional influences coming from shared environmental factors (Van Beijsterveldt, Bartles, Hudziak & Boomsma, 2003). Secondly, youth who behave badly across different situations, such as school, work and home, are more likely to show antisocial attitudes and behaviors. Just as importantly, youths with a family history of deviant behavior are at an increased risk to act defiantly (Smith, Calkins, Keane, Anastopoulos & Shelton, 2004). Third, youths who choose to engage in a variety of deviant acts are more likely to have persisting antisocial attitudes and behaviors than youths who only engage in deviant behavior under optimal circumstances or who always choose to perform the same deviant act, such as theft. Lastly, the age of the youth at the time of the first deviant act is a strong predictor of future deviant behavior. The younger the youth at the time of the first deviant act the more likely the youth is to engage in a long history of deviant behavior over their lifetime.
Continuity is defined as the psychological traits and learned behaviors that persist over time (Wright et al., 2008). Heterotypic continuity describes traits that are expressed differently over time but are ultimately caused by the same underlying factor. In contrast, homotypic continuity describes traits that are expressed in the same manner over time. Cumulative continuity describes a phenomenon in which a person’s antisocial behavior affects the opportunities available to them in life and thus reduces that person’s potential. Continuity is an important aspect of behavior to study because research has shown that the way youth choose to handle situations or the way in which they react to ambiguous situations remains relatively stable over time (Caspi, Harrington, Milne, Amell, Theodore & Moffitt, 2003).
There are a number of genetic and environmental factors effecting continuity (Wright et al., 2008). The quality of the neighborhood in which youths are raised has an effect on their antisocial attitudes. Within the neighborhood, the availability of criminal opportunities and the incentives gained through criminal behavior are possible reasons for this finding. Additionally, individuals help create their own environment through the choices they make when presented with different situations. Genetic factors also play a role in continuity. Genes can be expressed at different times depending on the behavior of the individual and the environment, likewise, when the environment changes gene expression is also likely to change. Research as also found that continuity is not necessarily expressed through consistent behavior across time but in the way an individual characteristically adjusts behaviors across differing contexts (Caspi, 2000).
Caspi, Avshalom (2000). The Child is Father of the Man: Personality Continuities from Childhood to Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(1): 158-172.
Caspi, Avshalom, Harrington, HonaLee, Milne, Barry, Amell, James W., Theodore, Reremoana F., & Moffitt, Terrie E. (2003). Children’s Behavioral Styles at Age 3 Are Linked to Their Adult Personality Traits at Age 26. Journal of Personality, 71(4).
Smith, Cynthia L., Calkins, Susan D., Keane, Susan P., Anastopoulos, Arthur D., & Shelton, Terri L. (2004). Predicting Stability and Change in Toddler Behavior Problems: Contributions of Maternal Behavior and Child Gender. Developmental Psychology, 40(1): 29-42.
Van Beijsterveldt, C. E. M., Bartels, M., Hudziak, J. J., & Boomsma, D. I. (2003). Causes of Stability of Aggression from Early Childhood to Adolescence: A Longitudinal Genetic Analysis in Dutch Twins. Behavior Genetics, 33(5).
Wright, John Paul, Tibbetts, Stephen G., & Daigle, Leah E. (2008). Criminals in the Making Criminality Across the Life Course. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.