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date: 15 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Males exceed females in the expression of almost all externalizing behavior, particularly the most pernicious forms, including chronic physical aggression, violence, and life-course–persistent antisocial behavior. Indeed, unlike most behavioral traits, these forms of aggression are expressed almost exclusively by males. In this essay, the author reviews evidence for inherited and acquired biological vulnerabilities that help explain these large sex differences in aggressive behaviors. Inherited vulnerabilities include the greater probability that boys will exhibit lower levels than girls of biologically based temperamental traits such as self-control, empathy, and fear, which in turn increases the likelihood that they will engage in externalizing behavior. Acquired vulnerabilities include the greater probability that males more than females will experience adverse prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal events resulting in impaired intelligence and executive functions, which also increases the likelihood that they will engage in externalizing behavior.

Keywords: sex difference, externalizing behavior, violence, aggression, biological vulnerability

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