When being bad feels good: A systematic review of the relationship between positive emotion and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents

Jessica Moore, Lok Yee Chloe Tam, Jennifer Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antisocial behavior in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor family and peer relationships, and a higher risk of mental and physical health problems in adulthood, as well as criminality. Emotions play a central role in children’s moral development, but most research has focused on negative emotions (e.g., shame and guilt), in relation to childhood antisocial behavior. Research in adult populations indicates that positive emotions experienced in anticipation of, during, and after antisocial acts may play an important role in the development and maintenance of antisocial behavior. Consequently, this systematic review aimed to investigate the relationship between positive emotion and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. A systematic search in five databases was conducted, yielding 52 studies that used different methodological approaches, samples, designs and methods to examine this association. Results provide support for a positive relationship between positive emotion and antisocial behavior across community, forensic and clinical samples. This link appeared to be stronger for younger children, boys, and for children high in social dominance, callous-unemotional or sensation-seeking traits. Results suggested that positive affect may act in concert with negative emotion, cognitive, personality and motivational processes, as well as peer influences to determine the initiation and maintenance of antisocial behavior. This review presents directions for future research and discusses the implications of findings for prevention and intervention programs for youth with antisocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Child and Family Psychology Review
Early online date3 Jul 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jul 2024

Data Availability Statement

Data will be made available on request.


  • Adolescents
  • Aggression
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Children
  • Happy victimizer
  • Positive emotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Education
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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