Witnessing Domestic Violence During Childhood Is Associated With Psychopathic Traits in Adult Male Criminal Offenders

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Abstract

While there is growing evidence that suffering physical abuse during childhood is subsequently associated with psychopathic traits in both juvenile and adult offenders, there is considerably less research on whether exposure to domestic violence as a witness, rather than as a direct victim, influences the subsequent presentation of psychopathic traits in adulthood. Accordingly, the current study examined the relationship between witnessing domestic violence during childhood (i.e., witnessing, hearing, or intervening in abuse against a parent/sibling) and psychopathic traits in adulthood in a sample of n = 127 incarcerated male offenders. As predicted, witnessing domestic violence was significantly associated with overall level of psychopathy, with a particularly strong relationship to the interpersonal/affective features of psychopathy. Importantly, this relationship held when controlling for the experience of domestic violence as a direct victim. These results add to the growing body of literature linking adverse and traumatic events during childhood with psychopathic traits later in life, and suggest that domestic violence exposure may be one factor contributing to the manipulative, interpersonal style exhibited by individuals high in psychopathy.

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