Developmental Pathways of Childhood Dark Traits

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Abstract

The dark triad of personality has traditionally been defined by 3 interrelated constructs, defined as Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Although the content of each of these constructs is clearly represented in childhood maladaptive trait measures, no studies have jointly addressed the prospective developmental course of this core set of maladaptive characteristics throughout childhood and adolescence. The current study uses latent growth modeling to explore how early dark traits develop over time, relying on a selected set of 6 childhood maladaptive traits that conceptually cover the adult dark triad. Across a 5-wave multi-informant design spanning 10 years of childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood (Nwave 1 = 717, 54.4% girls, age range T1 = 8–14.7 years, mean age = 10.73), results indicate that childhood dark traits show to some extent shared growth across time, although notable unique growth variance was also observed. Early dark traits further demonstrate significant association patterns with an adult dark triad measure across informants and are increasingly able to discriminate among more and less prototypical profiles of adult dark triad scores. Findings are discussed from a developmental psychopathology framework, underscoring that the proposed set of childhood dark traits represents a meaningful developmental precursor of the adult dark triad.

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