Juvenile delinquency and learning disabilities: The contribution of negative affectivity and high arousability

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Texas Tech University

Current literature reports that learning-disabled adolescents make up a disproportionate percentage of the juvenile delinquent population. Learning-disabled students display several psycho-social attributes that have been proposed to contribute to the probability of delinquency including: low self esteem as the result of academic failure, poor social competence, impulsivity and stimulus seeking. In spite of the academic, social and behavior problems that many learning-disabled adolescents have, the fact remains that the majority of LD adolescents do not engage in delinquent behaviors. The link between juvenile delinquency and learning disabilities may be more complex than studies of these individual variables have suggested in the past. The purpose of this study was to use a multifactorial approach in examining the link between learning disabilities and delinquency, incorporating the constructs of negative affectivity and high arousability.

Survey data were collected from the adolescents in the Project Intercept Program, including the Dorothy Lomax Altemative School and the Lubbock County Youth Center, and from Frenship junior high and Roosevelt junior high and high schools. Four groups, delinquent learning-disabled, delinquent non-learning-disabled, non-delinquent learning disabled and non-delinquent non-leaming-disabled adolescents, were compared on negative affectivity, positive affect, arousability, substance use, measured reading, spelling and arithmetic achievement and estimated Full-Scale IQ. It was proposed that the prevalence of learning disabilities would be higher in the delinquent sample than in the non-delinquent sample. It was also proposed that scores on negative affectivity, arousability and substance use would rank the groups in the following order: delinquent learning-disabled, delinquent non-learning-disabled, non-delinquent learning- disabled, and non-delinquent nonlearning-disabled.

It was found that the prevalence of learning disabilities was not higher within the delinquent sample as compared to the non-delinquent sample. In addition, learning disabled adolescents did not report higher rates of delinquent activity than non-learning disabled adolescents. Using the Johnckheere test for ordered alternatives, it was determined that the proposed ranking of the groups on negative affect, arousability and substance use was supported. It was also determined that high levels of negative affect, high levels of arousability, low levels of positive affect, poor academic achievement, low Full-Scale IQ and alcohol and drug use served as significant predictors of delinquent activity.

Juvenile delinquents, Juvenile delinquents, Adolescence, Learning disabled children, Aggressiveness (Psychology)