U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Motivation and Mechanisms in the Cycle of Violence

NCJ Number
Nebraska Symposium on Motivation Volume: 46 Dated: 2000 Pages: 1-37
Date Published
37 pages

This study examined one possible consequence of child abuse and neglect, i.e., criminality, with a focus on violence.


Convincing evidence was found for the cycle of violence. Being physically abused as a child increases a person's likelihood of being arrested for criminal violence later in life. Also, being neglected increases the likelihood of a person's subsequent violent behavior. Life-threatening denial of food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention has serious long-term negative consequences. Although abused and neglected children are more likely to come from "criminogenic" families, these family risk factors do not explain the increased risk for arrests for violence. For females, there is apparently a pathway from childhood victimization to violence through increased substance abuse symptoms. Generally, the males in the sample were at high risk for a number of problem behaviors. Other potential pathways from child abuse and neglect to violence and other coping mechanisms must also be considered. One possibility that was not examined in this study is that childhood victimization may lead to immediate effects that then have an irremediable effect on subsequent child development. Other hypotheses regarding abused and neglected children's pathway to violence are also posed. Only court-substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect were included in this study. Cases (n = 1,575) were drawn from the records of county juvenile and adult criminal courts in a metropolitan area of the Midwest during the years 1967 through 1971. Abuse and neglect cases were restricted to those in which children were 11 years old or less at the time of the abuse or neglect incidents. A control group was established with children who were matches on age, sex, race, and approximate family social class during the time period of the study. 10 tables and 91 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000