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Understanding adolescent antisocial behaviour from attachment theory and coercion theory perspectives

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  • Criminology


This study examined adolescent antisocial behaviour from two theoretical perspectives: attachment and coercion theories. Adolescents (N = 662, mean age: 15.8 years) completed measures of coping styles, attachment styles and coercive interactions (with mother and father), and rated their parents' use of hostile punishment and parental monitoring. They also reported involvement in delinquent activity and drug use, and sexual attitudes and behaviours. According to attachment theory , insecurity may be related to behavioral maladjustment directly, or indirectly through dysfunctional ways of coping. Consistent with this view, two forms of insecure attachment (dismissing and fearful) were directly associated with more delinquency, experimentation with more drugs, and using drugs in response to strong emotions. Dismissing attachment was also related to riskier sexual attitudes. However, coping style did not mediate the attachment-antisocial behaviour link. Nonetheless, attachment styles were differentially related to ways of coping with stress. Secure teens used more constructive coping and less unhealthy strategies. Those who were more dismissing or preoccupied used more emotion avoidance, and those who were more fearful tended to be self-critical and to withdraw emotionally and behaviorally. A non-significant trend between fearful attachment and angry confrontation was also found. According to coercion theory , ineffective parenting contributes to adolescent antisocial behaviour indirectly, through association with deviant peers. Consistent with this model, results from structural equation modeling showed that teens who are monitored more associate with less deviant peers, and engage in less antisocial activity. Those whose parents use hostile punishment are more antisocial. The combination of both theoretical perspectives, using path analysis, allowed a more complete understanding of adolescent antisocial behaviour. Insecure attachment was indirectly related to delinquency and substance use, through a contentious home environment (characterized by hostile punishment, coercive interactions, and poor monitoring). The link between insecure attachment with father and antisocial outcomes was also mediated by more frequent coercive interactions and teens' use of more angry confrontation. These findings highlight the relevance of considering both affective and social learning processes for understanding adolescent risk behaviour.

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