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Those with Antisocial Personality Drawn to Gangs

Personality Influences Gang MembershipA new UK study finds that antisocial individuals are attracted to gang membership and are also associated with violence and criminal intent.

This linkage was confirmed in a study of the 2011 London riots where researchers discovered most of the violence was committed by antisocial persons. Researchers believe the most antisocial are drawn to gangs where even the most antisocial can fit in and make friends with people like themselves.

Persons with an antisocial personality often act rashly and don’t think or care how their behavior might harm others.

Consequently, antisocial individuals may become excluded from school and work. Friendships with others are difficult as people tend to avoid them because they are generally unpleasant to be around. Individuals then struggle to make friends and end up feeling isolated and rejected until they meet peers of a similar character.

In the new study, investigators believe joining a gang may be the only way antisocial individuals can make friends, fit in, and feel as if they belong (an innate characteristic that even an antisocial individual needs).

This theory is contrary to common anecdotal presumptions — that gang membership is driven by fear, intimidation or peer pressure.

In the study, psychologist Dr. Vincent Egan of the University of Leicester and Matthew Beadman of University College London gave adult male prisoners a range of psychometric personality tests. They also asked about impulsive behavior and feelings of commitment to different social groups.

From these evaluations, the researchers determined that even within a group of prisoners, ‘”antisocial personality” emerged as a strong indicator of involvement in gangs.

The research is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Researchers believe an important finding of the study is the finding that those with an antisocial personality felt little connection to peers who might be a good influence. They prefer more antisocial peers who reaffirm their values and attitudes.

In the study, investigators discovered that although all prisoners could be considered antisocial, the most antisocial were more involved in more crimes, and more likely to be in a gang. Furthermore, researchers discovered the emotional and social feelings of adult offenders were not related to the number of crimes they have committed, nor gang membership.

Presumably, people stay in gangs because they make friends with other members and feel a strong connection to the group. In a gang, impulsive and antisocial behavior is praised and respected, rather than being seen as disruptive, further increasing the feeling of belonging.

“Our findings suggest individuals with low agreeableness seek out similar peers (in terms of disposition and attitudes) and this grouping process drives gang membership rather than socialization alone,” said Egan. “Anti-social group formation is strengthened if low-agreeableness individuals are rejected from prosocial peer groups, and peer group rejection predicts gang membership and deviance.

“Our findings suggest interventions seeking to reduce gang adherence focus on antisocial rather than emotional thoughts and behaviors, reiterating the importance of offense-focused interventions.”

Source: University of Leicester

Man gang photo by shutterstock.

Those with Antisocial Personality Drawn to Gangs

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Those with Antisocial Personality Drawn to Gangs. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Nov 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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