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The relationship between early childhood head injury and later life criminal behaviour: a longitudinal cohort study


Background Childhood head injury has been associated with the development of behavioural and psychological problems. This study examined the relationship between head injury in young childhood and subsequent criminal behaviour.

Methods Data were from the Providence cohort of the Collaborative Perinatal Project, a multicentre longitudinal study aimed at identifying the role of perinatal and prenatal factors on child health. History of head injury between ages 0 and 7 years was ascertained from health records of 2893 children. In total, 120 (4%) of children had a head injury. Propensity score matching was used to match each head injury case to five controls. Negative binomial regression was used to estimate the relationship between head injury and number of arrests, and log binomial regression was used to estimate risk of conduct problems.

Results Those who suffered any head injury from ages 0 to 7 years had approximately 1.5 times the rate of arrests and risk of conduct problems compared with uninjured controls, though results did not meet the p<0.05 threshold for statistical significance. Severe head injury was associated with a twofold increased rate of juvenile arrests (incident rate ratio=2.44, 95% CI 0.93 to 6.46) and risk of conduct problems (risk ratio=2.47, 95% CI 0.90 to 6.74) that approached statistical significance.

Conclusions Head injury in childhood was associated with increased criminality and conduct problems. Future work should identify mechanisms of this association in order to develop interventions to prevent criminal behaviour resulting from head injury.

  • injuries
  • child health
  • mental health
  • neuroepidemiology

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