The Importance of (Anti)Social Influence in Serious Juvenile Offenders With Psychopathic Traits

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Psychopathy, as it is popularly conceptualized, includes personality features (callousness, lack of remorse or shame, manipulativeness, and pathologic egocentricity) which imply impediments to the formation of traditional social bonds. However, it has been suggested that individuals with psychopathic traits may be affected by their social context, which may fuel their engagement in antisocial activity (Kerr, Van Zalk, & Stattin, 2012; Martens, 2002, 2003). As adolescents are inherently more susceptible to social influences than other developmental stages, it is especially important to understand the role of interpersonal context, particularly among youth with psychopathic traits. This study examines whether psychopathic traits moderate the relation between the antisocial influence of peers, parents, and very important nonparental adults on institutional (both self-report and official records of) offending in a sample of serious juvenile offenders in Southern California. Results indicate that greater exposure to antisocial influence from peers and very important nonparental adults translated to more delinquent behavior among all youth in the current study, but the impact of peer influence on institutional misconduct were particularly pronounced for youth high in psychopathic traits. These findings imply that taking a youth’s social environment into account is paramount when examining the importance of psychopathic traits to adolescent antisocial behavior.

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