[Contribution of dissociative symptoms to antisocial behavior in a sample of high-school students]

H Chabrol, C Saint-Martin, N Sejourné, O Moyano
L'Encéphale 2009, 35 (1): 52-6

INTRODUCTION: The link between dissociative disorders and delinquent behavior has been reported in forensic and clinical adolescents. Despite the frequency of dissociative symptoms in nonclinical adolescents, the relation between dissociative disorders and antisocial behavior has not been studied in community samples of adolescents.

AIM OF THE STUDY: The aim of this study is to investigate the relative contribution of dissociative symptoms and other psychopathological variables (depressive symptoms, borderline and psychopathic personality traits often reported to be associated with behavioral problems) to antisocial behavior in a sample of high-school students.

METHOD: A sample of 130 participants (84 girls, 46 boys; mean age=16.9+/-1.2) completed self-report questionnaires, the adolescent-dissociative experience scale (A-DES), the center for epidemiological studies-depression scale (CES-D), the Levenson self-report psychopathy scale (LSRP), the scale of the personality disorder questionnaire (PDQ-4+) assessing the borderline personality traits, and the scale of the PDQ-4+ assessing antisocial behavior and antecedent of conduct disorder (aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, serious violations of rules) for the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. In the present study, the internal consistency of these scales was satisfactory or excellent as assessed using Cronbach's alpha. Regarding the A-DES, the CES-D, the borderline traits scale, the antisocial behavior scale, alphas were 0.94, 0.76, 0.78, and 0.91, respectively. The consistency of the LSRP scale assessing callousness (a callous, selfish, and manipulative use of others), which is considered as the core dimension of psychopathy was satisfactory (alpha=0.83), whereas the consistency of the scale assessing impulsivity was poor (alpha=0.49). This scale was not used in the present study.

RESULTS: The comparison between boys and girls revealed the differences usually reported in studies on community samples of adolescents. Girls displayed higher scores on dissociative and depressive symptoms, and borderline traits. Boys had higher score on callousness. Among girls, dissociative symptoms were positively and moderately related to depressive symptoms (r=0.62, p<0.05), borderline traits [(r=0.62, p<.05), callousness (r=0.41, p<0.05). Among boys, these associations were weaker (depressive symptoms, (r=0.45, p<0.05); borderline traits, (r=0.47, p<0.05); callousness, (r=.24, NS)]. A multiple regression analysis predicting antisocial behavior with the psychopathological variables showed that sex was a significant predictor (p<0.01). The analysis was repeated for males and females separately. Among boys, the model explained a negligible fraction of the variance in antisocial behaviors (R(2)=0.12). No predictors were significant, perhaps because of the lack of power of this analysis (dissociative symptoms, beta=0.07, p=0.71; CES-D, beta=0.20, p=0.22; borderline traits, beta=0.19, p=0.30; callousness, beta=0.17, p=0.27). Among girls, the model explained a modest part of the variance (R(2)=0.30). Dissociative symptoms were the strongest predictor of antisocial behavior (beta=0.54, p<0.001). Depressive symptoms were significantly and negatively related to antisocial predictor (CES-D, beta=-0.36, p=0.006). Borderline traits (beta=0.08, p=0.54) and callousness (beta=0.18, p=0.009) were not significant predictors.

DISCUSSION: As in other studies, antisocial behavior appeared more linked to psychopathological variables in girls than in boys. The most salient result was the influence of dissociative symptoms on antisocial behavior in girls contrary to boys. Three hypotheses may explain this link: dissociative symptoms may facilitate antisocial acting-outs; dissociation may be a defense against anger and affect dysregulation; antisocial behavior and dissociative symptoms may be linked to a third variable such as trauma antecedents. Whereas depressive symptoms were positively linked to antisocial behavior among boys, depressive symptoms were negatively and significantly linked to antisocial behavior among girls. Depressive symptoms may inhibit antisocial behavior in girls. The association between dissociative and depressive symptoms and antisocial behavior in girls warrants further studies.

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