The Origins of You: Two types of adolescent rule breakers

The Origins of You (2020) is a book by some of the most authoritative researchers in developmental psychology: Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt and Richie Poulton. The authors argue that there are two distinct trajectories for juvenile antisocial behaviour even though the outcomes are often the same and include

[…] one type was referred to as “childhood-onset or life-course persistent” (LCP) and the other was called “adolescent-onset or adolescent-limited” (AL). Moffitt theorized that LCP teenagers launch their antisocial careers early in childhood as a result of subtle neuropsychological problems that disrupt the normal development of language, memory, and self-control

Even though AL wasn’t really limited to adolescence and often associated with high levels of alcoholism and lower socioeconomic status, the AL generally had better life outcomes than LCP. In evolutionary psychology, anti-social behaviour is generally associated with a fast life history strategy, i.e. early puberty, high sociosexuality and risk-taking.

However, I will argue here that AL is actually associated with a slow life history strategy and childhood and teenage adversity that may lead to an accelerated life history strategy rather than an overall fast life history strategy. Life history strategy may depend on several factors, but one that is likely to play a role is our ancestral mode of subsistence: hunting-gathering (HG), farming and pastoralism, with HGs having the slowest and pastoralist the fastest life history.

According to Moffitt, the two types are almost indistinguishable during adolescence, the biggest contrast between LCP and AL is the level of violence involved, with LCP showing very high levels of violence and psychopathic traits in general and AL showing much lower levels of violence (indicative of a slower life history strategy). These two types correlate to a great extent with my hypothetical pastoralist type (LCP) and HG type (AL).

Comparing the life trajectories of LCP and AL boys it becomes clear that LCP is strongly associated with a fast life history strategy (early puberty, absent fathers, less maternal investment, etc.):

Compared to AL boys, LCP boys had mothers who were younger when bearing their first child, spent more time as a single parent across the child’s first eleven years of life […] Perhaps because of these maternal and family conditions, mothers of LCP boys were less nurturing in their parenting than mothers of AL boys were. Indeed, when children were three years of age and mothers were observed interacting with their sons, mothers of LCP boys proved to be less supportive and caring in their parenting than mothers of AL boys; they also reported treating their sons more harshly, while the discipline they provided when the children were seven and nine years of age was less consistent. Finally, the families of LCP boys experienced more household conflict at these same ages than did families of AL boys.

In AL boys, on the other hand, show a different overall profile:

Although ALL boys espoused aggressive attitudes, these were not as extreme as those of their LCP counterparts; rather, they described themselves as willing to dominate and intimidate others if necessary to get ahead. Nevertheless, they showed evidence of rebelliousness. First, they had unconventional values-endorsing permissive child-rearing, eschewing traditional status hierarchies, and having little use for strict religious rules. Second, they engaged in extensive experimentation with drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, as well as unsafe sex and dangerous driving.

There are some signs of risk-taking and fast life-history strategy, however, on closer inspection, the only thing that is deviant about them is that they endorse liberal values

  • permissive child-rearing

I have argued before that these liberal values stem from our past hunter-gatherer egalitarianism, the opposite values from farmer ancestors. In contrast to LCP, AL are not born high in dominance but are only willing to dominate if they feel they are prevented from getting ahead. Pastoralist types are generally high in dominance behaviour.

Identifying the right type of anti-social behaviour is absolutely crucial here. Authoritarian measures may (acknowledging lower status) or may not work with pastoralist types, but may be absolutely counterproductive with hunter-gatherer types and worsen the situation. LCP are proactively aggressive, whereas the AL are (at least initially) reactively aggressive. The improvement of AL in adulthood is most likely due to higher self-determination. Even so, conflict at work with an authoritarian boss and coworkers are likely to persist.

Originally published at on August 29, 2021.