Fulbright Grant to Fund Study on Antisocial Behavior

Reid G. Fontaine, a noted authority on antisocial behavior, has received a Traditional/Senior Scholar Fulbright Award to pursue his research in Italy during the spring semester. Fontaine is an assistant professor of psychology and associate professor of law at The University of Arizona and co-director of the program in criminal law and policy in the UA James E. Rogers College of Law.

The project being funded by the four-month grant is titled "Social Cognitive and Personality Factors in the Multifinality of Externalizing and Internalizing Problems in Italian Young Adults." Fontaine will join a team of research scientists with whom he has previously collaborated at the University of Rome "La Sapienza," the city's largest university. He will hold a visiting faculty appointment at the school as well.

"My research will focus on mechanisms of moral disengagement in the development of antisocial behavior in adolescence and criminality in adulthood," Fontaine said. "We have already submitted two empirical articles, but the Fulbright award is critical because it will provide me with the time and collaborative intimacy to produce a larger volume of scientific research and scholarship," he said.

The study has followed the same sample of participants for many years, beginning in their childhood, through adolescence and now into early adulthood. Fontaine said there is scientific evidence that antisocial individuals lack moral cognitive attributes that are common to normally developed humans.

Recent research, he said, suggests that a set of processes called "moral disengagement," by which an individual disconnects himself or herself from the moral properties of a given act, may be critical to understanding antisocial development in both adolescents and adults.

"The ability to detach the moral content or qualities from antisocial behavior accounts for a significant portion of antisocial behavioral variability in community samples," Fontaine said.

Fontaine and his group's initial research has shown that social-cognitive factors such as moral disengagement play an essential role in antisocial outcomes. However, little is known about the role of moral cognition in other maladaptive outcomes, such as anxiety and depression, an area he plans to research while in Rome.