Two Subtypes of Psychopathic Criminals Differ in Negative Affect and History of Childhood Abuse

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Abstract

Objective: Specification of the etiological mechanisms underlying psychopathy is a key step in developing more effective methods for preventing and remediating the callous and impulsive behavior that characterizes the disorder. Theoretical conceptualizations of psychopathic subtypes propose that a primary variant largely stems from impoverished affect, whereas a secondary variant is hypothesized to develop subsequent to adverse environmental experiences (e.g., childhood maltreatment). However, there has been a dearth of research demonstrating that psychopathic subtypes actually differ in terms of experienced childhood maltreatment in an adult offender population. Method: The current study employed model-based cluster analysis (MBCA) in a sample of incarcerated, psychopathic males (n = 110) to identify subtypes of psychopathic offenders based on a broad personality assessment. Results: Two subgroups emerged: 1 with high levels of negative affect (high-NA) and 1 with low levels of negative affect (low-NA). The high-NA subgroup scored significantly higher on measures of childhood maltreatment. Conclusion: These results provide support for theoretical conceptualizations of psychopathic subtypes, suggesting that psychopathic offenders with high levels of negative affect experience a greater degree of childhood maltreatment.

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