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Conduct Disorder

Contextual Influences

An ecological framework for understanding development promotes research linking contextual influences with basic socialization processes in the emergence of competence and dysfunction (Bronfenbrenner 1989). Child relationships with teachers and other school officials, as well as influences that arise from factors including poverty and social disadvantage, all interact to create an intricate developmental tapestry that potentially supports maladaptive behavior.

Contextual conditions that can affect the development of antisocial behavior include divorce, marital transitions, poverty, and unemployment. Consistent with an ecological emphasis, it seems that these factors influence CD by disrupting family and peer environments. In a classic study, Glen Elder, Tri Van Nguyen, and Avshalom Caspi (1985) showed that poverty associated with the Great Depression disrupted parent-child interactions and was a factor in behavior problems in children.

For some children, the climate at school is reminiscent of their own family context in that relationships with teachers and peers can be experienced as conflictual, coercive, and embedded in spirals of negative interactions. This elevates the likelihood of child disengagement from the learning process. Academic failure is well documented to be strongly linked to aggressive, impulsive, antisocial behavior and criminality. In addition, studies of school environments suggest that classroom aggression may also influence the development of conduct problems. A study of first grade children revealed that individually aggressive boys in highly aggressive classes are at increased risk of being rated aggressive by sixth grade teachers (Kellam et al. 1998), confirming that experiences across multiple domains influence the development of conduct problems.


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Health IssuesConduct Disorder - A Model Of Conduct Problems, Biological Factors, Family Management, Peer Deviance, Contextual Influences