Cognitive impulsivity and behavioral problems in adolescents

Lauren R Baskir, Fordham University


This research originated with questions about services to juveniles who committed minor delinquent acts. Research supports the idea that different categories of juvenile offenders exist, with most adolescents only committing minor offenses and only during their adolescent years. The current study suggests that this behavior results from normative adolescent brain development and associated inadequate decision making abilities. It is hypothesized that many juveniles participate in minor offending behavior and/or externalizing behavior, such as aggression and/or substance use, in large part, because of cognitive immaturity. This project is designed to examine whether a large percentage of normal adolescents show the same decision making profile, represented as cognitive impulsivity, as adolescents who have committed minor offenses. Two hundred and one adolescents from a rural high school in Pennsylvania participated in the study. A neuropsychological measure of cognitive impulsivity, self-report behavioral impulsivity scale, family peer environment scales, and a self-report delinquency scales were used to explain and predict relationships between variables and delinquent and externalizing behaviors. Results indicated that the majority of adolescents 16 years old and younger showed significantly high levels of cognitive impulsivity as compared to adults. Additionally, unique effects of high cognitive impulsivity and negative peer relationships predicted minor delinquency whereas, the unique effects of high behavioral impulsivity, high familial conflict, and the highest levels of negative peer relationships predicted moderate/serious delinquency. Frequency and type of externalizing behaviors of aggression (physical, verbal, and passive) as well as substance use (alcohol, binge alcohol, marijuana, and other substance use) differentiated between those who do not participate in delinquent acts and those that do. These variables did not differentiate between minor and moderate/serious delinquency. The implications of the study support original concerns over methodological issues in defining delinquent groups and strengthen the argument that degrees of delinquent behavior exist and certain minor acts of delinquency or externalizing behavior may be influenced by normative aspect of adolescent development. Thus, a variety of different and appropriate services should be provided to juveniles based on cognitive capacity and type of offense.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Cognitive therapy|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Baskir, Lauren R, "Cognitive impulsivity and behavioral problems in adolescents" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3216904.