Hyperactivity and impulsivity are among the most important personality or individual difference factors that predict later delinquency. Hyperactivity usually begins before the age of 5 years and often before the age of 2 years, and it tends to persist into adolescence. It is associated with restlessness, impulsivity, and a short attention span, and for that reason has been termed the hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention deficit syndrome. Related concepts include a poor ability to defer gratification and a short future time perspective.
Many investigators have reported a link between hyperactivity or impulsivity and offending. For example, in a Swedish longitudinal survey, Klinteberg et al.(8) found that hyperactivity at age 13 years (rated by teachers) predicted violent offending up to the age of 26 years. The most extensive research on different measures of impulsivity was carried out in the Pittsburgh Youth Study. This showed that cognitive or verbal impulsivity (e.g. acts without thinking, unable to defer gratification) was more strongly related to delinquency than was behavioural impulsivity (e.g. clumsiness in psychomotor tests).
In the Cambridge Study, a combined measure of hyperactivity- impulsivity-attention deficit was developed at the age of 8 to 10 years, and it significantly predicted juvenile convictions independently of conduct problems at the age of 8 to 10 years. Hence, hyperactivity- impulsivity-attention deficit is not merely another measure of antisocial personality, but it is a possible cause, or an earlier stage in a developmental sequence leading to offending. Similar constructs to hyperactivity, such as sensation seeking, are also related to delinquency. In the Cambridge Study, the extent to which a boy was daring or took risks at the age of 8 to 10 years, as rated by parents and peers, significantly predicted his convictions up to the age of 32 years independently of all other factors; 57 per cent of daring boys were later convicted. Also, poor concentration or restlessness of boys was the most important predictor of convictions for violence.
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