Gender sensitive factors in girls delinquency
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Gender Sensitive Factors in Girls’ Delinquency. Diana Fishbein, Ph.D. Research Triangle Institute Transdisciplinary Behavioral Science Program Shari Miller-Johnson, Ph.D. Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy Sanford Institute. Donna-Marie Winn, Ph.D. Duke University

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Gender sensitive factors in girls delinquency

Gender Sensitive Factors in Girls’ Delinquency

Diana Fishbein, Ph.D.

Research Triangle Institute Transdisciplinary Behavioral Science Program

Shari Miller-Johnson, Ph.D.

Duke University

Center for Child and Family Policy

Sanford Institute

Donna-Marie Winn, Ph.D.

Duke University

Center for Child and Family Policy

Psychology, Social and Health Sciences

Gayle Dakof, Ph.D.

University of Miami

Department of Epidemiology &

Public Health

Support for this presentation comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Research on girls
Research on Girls

  • Scarce: most delinquency studies focus on boys

  • Correlates appear to be similar

    • Not clear if the risk factors affect girls similarly

    • Or risk factors may exert a similar influence but occur disproportionately

  • Interpersonal and familial relationships may more profoundly influence girls’ behavior

  • Even less research that accounts for ethnic differences between sexes

Sample characteristics
Sample Characteristics

  • Adjudicated and Clinical Samples

    • Concentrated with high risk girls

    • Biases and differential referral processes

    • Various segments of the CJS will differ due to system biases

    • Best information for designing treatment strategies

  • Community samples

    • Indicative of general risk and protective factors

    • Highlights ways in which different outcomes can emerge from similar influences

    • Best information for designing prevention strategies

Gender specificity sensitivity
Gender Specificity ≠ Sensitivity

  • Specific = only specific to one gender (Menstruation)

  • Sensitive = present in both genders, but more prevalent or functions differently

    • Biological functions (testosterone)

    • Psychological traits (depression, CD)

  • Need to understand normal physical and psychosocial development of each gender

  • Need to account for how development affects delinquent outcomes

Short story
Short Story!

  • Biology (aspects of genetics, brain development and function) affects behaviors

  • Chronic stress increases risk for bad outcomes by negatively affecting brain development

  • Once stressed, the individual is more sensitive to environmental triggers

  • Early high risk behaviors are malleable

Brain development prefrontal cortex

Brain Development: Prefrontal Cortex

If the prefrontal area does not develop appropriately:

Hard time understanding social situations and social cues

“Why I always got to wait!!”

Sees many situations and people as out to get them or hostile

He dissed me!!!

Gets mad easily

“He meant to step on my shoe,

so I punched him!”

Is impulsive and inattentive

Plays video games all day,

but can’t focus in class

Seems insensitive to consequences

“Like I care!!”

Heightened sensivity to reward in

spite of consequences

Drug abuse

Brain development emotional regulation

Brain Development: Emotional Regulation

Limbic system is regulated by prefrontal cortex

If the Limbic System is not adequate communicating with the Prefrontal Cortex:

Difficulty getting motivated

Hard time regulating emotions

Response to stress is


Decreased sensation leads

to seeking highs (drugs)

Poor self regulation

Gender sensitive factors in girls delinquency

Causes of Disconnect between Prefrontal Cortex and the Limbic System

  • Genetic defects

  • Developmental delays

  • Injury

  • Metabolic errors

  • Stress

Gender sensitive factors in girls delinquency

Chronic stress primes the brain for risk behaviors and drug abuse

Alters brain function, disengages coping mechanisms, and compromises ability to execute rational choices

Increases the likelihood of psychopathology: depression, drug abuse & violence

Genetic vulnerabilities affect particular behavioral outcomes of stress

Positive attributes of individual or environment is protective.

The adolescent brain
The Adolescent Brain abuse

  • Particularly vulnerable to environmental inputs, including stress and drug effects

  • Effects are longstanding

  • Prefrontal cortex not fully developed until early adulthood

    • Unique stage of change in metabolism, pruning, and increased efficiency in prefrontal function

  • Emotional centers (limbic) without checks and balances

    • Greater sensitivity to rewards, less inhibition

    • Seek altered states of consciousness

Fundamental imbalance in puberty
Fundamental Imbalance in Puberty abuse

  • Rapid physical, endocrine, and social changes that create early affective motivations and challenges

  • Gradual, later development of affect regulation and maturation of cognitive/self-control skills

Cognitive Capacity

Planning; logic; reasoning, inhibitory control; problem-solving skills; capacity for understanding long-term consequences of behavior

Emotional Capacity

Pubertal drives and emotions; sensation seeking; risk taking; sensitivity to rewards, low self control

Adolescent girls disadvantages
Adolescent Girls’ Disadvantages abuse

  • Greater sensitivity to stressors, particularly familial

  • Greater incidence of sexual abuse, dysfunctional familial relationships, maltreatment and other stressors among antisocial females relative to males

  • Proneness to psychological and psychiatric illnesses: e.g., depression and anxiety

  • Differences in development of amygdala and hippocampus heighten stress sensitivity

  • Adrenal gland sensitivity negatively alters mood

  • Estrogen amplifies stress responses, increasing mood disturbances

  • Perception of greater stress than males

Girls advantages
Girls’ Advantages abuse

  • Larger Prefrontal Cortex  less acting out behaviors

  • Advanced language and verbal skills

  • More effective processing of social and emotional cues

  • Female hormones protect against neurocognitive damage from stress

  • “Tend and Befriend”, rather than “Fight and Flight” due to hormonal differences

Adhd and conduct disorders
ADHD and Conduct Disorders abuse

  • Developmental delays: Males outnumber females by a 3:1 ratio

  • Boys more hyperactive, girls more inattentive and less externalizing

  • Presence of CD substantially compounds outcome: severity and early onset more similar to boys

  • Boys more prone to both in response to stress than girls

  • ADHD more persistent in girls, although less severe in community samples

  • Family violence is related to ADHD in girls and predicts psychological and cognitive deficits

Programmatic implications
Programmatic Implications abuse

  • Need more research: Studies of ADHD in girls are sorely lacking

  • Need greater sensitivity among professionals to the clinical features of ADHD in girls.

  • Need greater clinical referrals and treatment, even when symptoms are not externalizing

  • Need timely and comprehensive screening of ADHD (and other mental health concerns) in order to adequately address treatment needs for delinquent girls

Basic intelligence
Basic Intelligence abuse

  • Both boys and girls with lower IQs tend to be more delinquent

  • Other factors that affect the link between IQ and delinquency

    • Low Self esteem

    • Poor School attitudes and performance

    • Poor reaction of school staff towards girls (perceived)

    • Negative family influences

  • Deficits in abstract thinking interact with early pubertal maturation to increase risk for delinquency

Programmatic implications1
Programmatic Implications abuse

  • Need assessments for targeted educational and vocational special needs programs

  • Need cognitive therapies with a language base

  • Need to better understand links between IQ and early puberty

Cognitive and emotional regulatory deficits
Cognitive and Emotional Regulatory Deficits abuse

  • Hot and Cool Cognition

    • Cool = strictly cognitive processing of abstract and decontextualizing problems

    • Hot = regulation of affect and motivation in performing a task or solving a problem

  • Prefrontal-Limbic Circuitry – develops in early adulthood

  • Girls develop this circuitry later than boys due to female hormones

  • Girls have larger and more active PFC so can suppress externalizing behaviors but not internalizing

  • Sources of delays: genetics, prenatal conditions, adversity, puberty and substance abuse

Programmatic implications2
Programmatic Implications abuse

  • Programs to reduce child maltreatment

  • Treatment for deficits resulting from substance misuse

  • Parenting and family support programs to enhance cognitive reinforcements and bonding at home

  • Programs to reduce maternal smoking

  • School preparation programs for disadvantaged girls with cognitive and intellectual deficits

  • Targeted remediation services in home and school

  • Harm reduction approach during adolescence

  • Alternative activities

Early pubertal maturation
Early Pubertal Maturation abuse

  • Both biologically and socially challenging

    • Disconnect between brain and body readiness

    • Early hormone release increases neural excitation

  • Stress profoundly influences early puberty

    • Absence of biological father and familial instability

  • Strongly related to disruptive behavior disorders, antisocial personality traits, and delinquency

  • Affiliation with older boys

    • Exposure to intimate partner violence

  • More often sexually abused in the home

  • Good parenting may mitigate negative effects

  • Intimately interacts with psychological disorders

Programmatic implications3
Programmatic Implications abuse

  • Family therapy and educational supports for families of divorce and entry of new male household figure

  • Stress reduction programs under conditions of adversity or disadvantage

  • Domestic violence and child abuse prevention programs

  • Psychological and cognitive supports during early puberty for both child and caregivers

  • Weight control

Mental health issues
Mental Health Issues abuse

  • Greater incidence of internalizing disorders

    • Less related to delinquency than externalizing disorders

    • Depression and anxiety more prevalent, tho, in JJ girls

    • Also more CD, ODD and SA than in community

  • Over ¾ in JJ system with one or more disorders

  • Predominantly untreated

  • Rates of depression similar b/t sexes until puberty

  • Co-occurring ECF & emotional regulation deficits

  • Relationship with early puberty

  • Triggered by stress: e.g., higher rates of PTSD

  • Strong familial attachments may be protective

Programmatic implications4
Programmatic Implications abuse

  • Comprehensive psychological assessment and appropriate treatment, as indicated

  • Comprehensive psychological assessment and appropriate treatment, as indicated

  • Comprehensive psychological assessment and appropriate treatment, as indicated

  • Comprehensive psychological assessment and appropriate treatment, as indicated

Remaining research questions
Remaining Research Questions abuse

  • How can we use information about girls’ brain development and function to improve outcomes?

  • How might manipulations of the environment improve brain function and development?

  • How can we use their advantages to increase resiliency (e.g. talkative, less acting out, and read social cues better)?

  • What are the critical stages of development during which psychosocial conditions (e.g., stress) differentially exerts its effects on girls relative to boys?

  • Can understanding brain-environment interactions help design interventions that impact at critical points in the developmental trajectory to alter risk status for girls?