In the field of forensic psychological research, not only is importance given to the neurophysiological, cognitive, and psychosocial components of juvenile delinquency that were discussed above, but interest is also given to the various ecological and individual, risk and protective factors of juvenile offending. Risk factors are often used to assess the probability of an individual becoming delinquent, and the chances for repeat offending.
Risk factors generally include any individual or environmental factors that increase the likelihood of negative behaviors or juvenile offending. Protective factors are thought to decrease the likelihood of negative behavior, or mitigate the negative effect of certain risk factors. Some factors are considered to be static, which are unable to be changed, such as the increased risk of criminal behavior in the male gender; others are dynamic factors, which can potentially be changed, such as inadequate parenting or discipline. The number of factors, and the length of exposure to them, determines the severity of the impact on the child’s behavior.
Individual factors are often thought to be the most influential during early years, and include the individual’s temperament. Low intelligence, and the existence of any childhood neurodevelopmental disorders are also examples of individual risk factors. Roughly 5-10% of the population is affected by one of these disorders, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and various tic disorders. In one study, children diagnosed with ADHD or tic disorders were at a substantially high risk for violent behavior later in life, which was defined in the study as: homicide, assault, robbery, arson, any sexual offense, illegal threats, and intimidation.
Individuals with psychiatric conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are found to be at higher risk of offending. In one study, a correlation was found between low levels of physiological arousal, measured with a skin conductance response test, and antisocial behavior. The same study also suggested that low heart rate in response to a stressful situation indicates the lack of a normal fear response, which is thought to reduce the likelihood of feeling guilt or shame. Most individual factors are considered static, biologically predetermined traits that are unlikely to be changed with environmental influence.
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