An Evaluation of Dual Systems Theories of Adolescent Delinquency in a Normative Longitudinal Cohort Study of Youth

Academic Article


  • Dual systems theories of adolescent risk-taking propose that the socioemotional and self-regulation systems develop at different rates, resulting in a peak in sensation-seeking in adolescence at a time when self-regulation abilities are not yet fully mature. This “developmental imbalance” between bottom-up drives for reward and top-down control is proposed to create a period of vulnerability for high-risk behaviors such as delinquency, substance use, unprotected sex, and reckless driving. In this study, data from the Swiss longitudinal normative z-proso study (n = 1522, n = 784 male; aged 11, 13, 15, 17, and 20) were used to test whether the presence of a developmental imbalance between sensation-seeking and self-regulation is associated with trajectories of engagement in delinquency across early adolescence to adulthood. Using a latent class growth analysis of sensation-seeking, self-regulation, and delinquency, it was found that a model with 3 classes was optimal in the whole sample and male sub-sample, including one class characterized by a developmental imbalance and corresponding adolescent peak in delinquency. In females, there was no evidence for a class that could be described according to the trajectories hypothesized in dual systems theory. This study’s results support the claim that a developmental imbalance may drive an adolescent increase in delinquency. However, this applies only to a small subgroup of individuals, particularly males.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Murray AL; Zhu X; Mirman JH; Ribeaud D; Eisner M
  • Start Page

  • 1293
  • End Page

  • 1307
  • Volume

  • 50
  • Issue

  • 7