Psychopathic Traits in Childhood and their Effects on Delinquency

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Problem Statement

Misbehavior exhibited by youths has been increasing each day in the current societies. The behavior can be of various forms and have different ways of understanding them. Rebellious behaviors seen in youths and the juveniles are related basically to their unwillingness or inability to obey and follow the norms of a certain community and have respect for the authority or for the rights of other people in the society. The behaviors can be exhibited in lighter forms such as absenteeism from school or in more serious forms and aspects such as homicide and rape. These acts are related and can never take place as incidents that are isolated (Assary et al 2014). Actions that include attacking another person or shoplifting are different in seriousness since they are looked at by the common law that abides the citizens and the authorities. Most of the youths however occasionally involve themselves in antisocial and illegal actions with a few of them committing serious offences in a regular manner. The few of them that get involved in persistent serious acts account for a significant portion of the total antisocial offences committed. This portion therefore makes it necessary for the investigations to go on. The link between criminality and having attributes of psychopaths are very strong. However, it is just recently that the communities of criminology appreciated the specific qualities of psychopathy as developing in the youths and are unevenly distributed in the society. In appreciation, the study appraises the importance of the qualities of psychopathic callous-unemotional in the youths together with vital variables related to criminology that would be used to explain the violence (Assary et al 2014). According to the results, the callous-unemotional qualities remain strong among the ancient criminological variables that were used to explain violence in the juveniles. In addition, the callous-unemotional traits are seen to relate with major criminological covariates in such a way that when the levels of one construct becomes higher the effects of the others associates in violence and criminal actions is weakened. In its adult exhibition psychopathy is seen as a personality disorder that is so much complex and is characterized by gathering affective, interpersonal and behavioral qualities. The incidence rate of psychopathy in the overall population mostly ranges from 0.5%-1% and 15%-25% in the confined population. Those suffering from this disorder do not have feelings of empathy, remorse or even guilt. They also lack responsibility and fear for punishment and may find it hard to regulate their emotions. The symptomologies of psychopathy seem to be similar through the lifespan that is during childhood or adolescence or adulthood. Psychopathic behavior may be inherited in children and adolescents. Though there have been several studies to examine the psychopathic behavior in the early childhood, few of these studies have tried to examine the relationship between negative and conflictive relationships between the parent and the psychopathic child and adolescent tendencies. This is possibly explained by the circumstance that most of these researchers have left out the impacts of early ecological influences on the psychopathic behavior development. The present day studies are mostly aimed at filling the gap by investigating the association between adverse parental effects and the psychopathic behavior in a model of twins considered between pre and middle adolescence. By investigating the associations in a genetically useful scheme it is possible to examine the course and the hereditary and ecological etiology of parenthood and child actions. This research is on the development and identification of pre-psychopathic behaviors and affect in children. This is important to study because understanding differences in the personality and thought processes in children can allow professionals to implement early intervention and promote more pro-social behaviors (Bailey & Chitsabesan 2017).

Literature Review

In the present time new interests have come up to study the juvenile misbehavior and new research hypothesis and theories developed. Renowned authors of this section in research emphasized the importance to cheer research that is aimed to study the seriousness and persistence misbehavior in youths to collect reliable scientific evidence which can later validate interventions in relation to efficiency of therapy and the cost and benefits. Research carried out in the recent past have concluded that serious rebellious behavior are more concentrated in males adolescents and that when behaviors such as those are introduced early they are very steady during their entire life course. According to studies that relate to this issue the best foretellers of rebellious behavior in children and adolescents are the characters of the individual as well as the family. Past rebellious behaviors best predicts the probability of future rebellious behaviors. Using psychopathy construct for the adolescents in the juvenile misbehavior context has in the recent past gained importance in studies despite having a long history in the psychological and biomedical sciences. The relationship between this construct and higher stability and regularity of rebellious behavior has had accumulating evidence with more severe and violent misbehaviors, the criminal activity on setting too early, early police arrests and convictions at a very early stage (Bezdjian et al 2010). Psychopathy is commonly hypothesized as a syndrome which can remain throughout the lifetime of an individual and the gathering and incorporation of extreme emotional, behavioral, interpersonal and lifestyle characteristics. The adult men who are diagnosed with psychopaths incline to have more proactive violent actions more regularly and this is motivated by influential reasons such as revenge and material gains. Psychopathic characters and traits which are defined from a point of view that is dimensional refer to a devious, callous, deceitful and remorseless pattern which has been associated to more persistent, serious and violent early commencement kind of disruptive behavior in men preferring dangerous and exciting behaviors. Psychopathy studies in the past have been carried out by psychopathologists and forensic psychologists and they mostly focused on adult men. In the recent past some researchers have improved psychopathy network and adapted the present instruments used in psychopathy research to adolescents, children and women (Bezdjian et al 2010). The researchers claim that children who exhibit a combination of attention deficit, hyperactivity, conduct disorder and impulsivity have a specific toxic variant of behavior disorder that makes them alike to the adult psychopaths. The children can be recognized by the use of psychopathy measures, inconsiderate behavior and tasks in the laboratory intended to examine response modulation which includes having a hard time when delaying gratification. According to research that has been carried out so far claim that the youth psychopaths construct which has gathered the most reliable evidence is a structure called the tridimensional structure. This structure has three dimensions which are the impulsivity, narcissism and unemotional/callous traits dimension. The study has shown the importance of unemotional and callous traits by defining it as an effective- such as restriction of emotions displayed and lack of guilt and interpersonal styles such as lack of empathy which arises as a unique dimension. These traits have been referred to help in differentiating more serious and aggressive types of youth's delinquents different from what the narcissism and impulsivity dimensions cannot distinguish. Some of the best traits that are common between antisocial characters and psychopaths' traits are their resilient mutual relationship and their great steadiness in their childhood and adulthood lives. The occurrence of psychopathic qualities with other disorders is very high and may at times be considered the rule. The evidences supporting that children diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorders and deficiency in attention comorbid combinations have been on the increase and suggest that they exhibit a certain serious and violent kind of antisocial trait which is similar to the traits of adults diagnosed with psychopathy. After the analysis of the relationship between youth's psychopathy and expressing psychopathology as defined in disruptive behavior terms, it was concluded that there was a moderate relationship between them. Some researchers tried demonstrating the existence of retroactive bond between psychopathy found in adults and the childhood conduct disorders such as prolonged violence, impulsivity, being involved in several crimes and early beginning of antisocial traits. Some other researchers also investigated the association between psychopathy and various kinds of psychopathology in adolescents who were hospitalized and got numerically important positive relationships of psychopathy with antisocial traits and conduct disorders. Other surveyors also found a strong and important relationship between the Antisocial Process Screening Device dimension (which include narcissism, unemotional or callous traits and impulsivity) and disorder in conduct. The idea of low self-esteem has been typically linked to the juvenile delinquency although its association with traits that psychopathic related is under study and therefore it remains not clear. The sociologists, psychologists and criminologists have for a very long time considered that self-esteem relates significantly with antisocial traits although its relationship with psychopathic traits has not been studied yet. Having low self-esteem among the young people forces them to relate with the other young people who are involved in antisocial behaviors. Some researchers show how the young people with low self-esteem are excluded and rejected more regularly by their age mates and how the exclusion and rejection produces a venomous cycle which intensifies the violent behavior. In other experimental studies the young people who have low self-esteem incline to be involved in antisocial behaviors more regularly and that this as a result may increase their self-esteem. Psychopathy in juveniles is a significant study area though little research has been made on the topic mainly in samples from Europe (Salekin 2016).


From the studies that have examined the association between antisocial behaviors in children and the parenting styles, it is important to note that the parenting characteristics are of significance in the children's antisocial traits development. Particularly, inconsistent and harsh parenting is connected to the development of delinquency, aggression and conduct problems. In the model of parents' effects, undesirable parenting styles are alleged to impact the antisocial traits of a child. Although there have been few studies that investigate the association of psychopathic nature and parenting styles, evidence shows that there lies a relationship between the style of parenting and the psychopathic personality of the child in future during his/her adulthood. Research using a retroactive study design shows that male prisoners with the psychopathic disorder have had more severe experiences at their childhood such as abuse and neglect than the male prisoners who are non-psychopathic. People who have high psychopathic behaviors have had been exposed to childhood abuse and/or neglect as opposed to those who have low psychopathic behaviors (Rutter 2010). More recent studies that have used potential study design have shown that reduced parental bonding (such as absence of motherly care and low patriarchal overprotection) and physical abuse at an early stage are related with adulthood psychopathic behavior. Even though most of the studies carried out previously show that there is a strong association between the style of parenting and psychopathic behavior, evidence also show that psychopathic behavior in children is not influenced by the kind of parenting received. For instance, study that included females showed that the style of parenting had no relationship with psychopathic traits which include callousness, signifying that the psychopathic traits have a specific developmental path autonomous from the style of parenting or the quality. However, when all these studies are taken together they suggest that the style of parenting has a significant influence on the psychopathic behavior development influencing effects driven by parents. In some other evidence the relationship between the style of parenting and antisocial traits in children is not exclusively determined by parental affects, but also may be initiated by the child. Particular characteristics of a child (such as their irritable behavior and oppositional) prompt negative reactions from the ecology. That is, some of the aggression in parents may be induced or be a reaction to the aggressive and antisocial behavior seen in the children rather than being a cause. The adoption studies on the antisocial traits supports the hypothesis that violent children provoke more undesirable surroundings from their own parents. For instance, a research has showed that children at a risk of heredity which is based on the biological characteristics of the mother had a more undesirable parenting from their adoptive guardians than the children not at a heredity risk. A more recent research has showed a relationship between genetic risk and parental negativity for the psychopathic behavior traits. Hence, bidirectional impacts probably exist between the characteristics of parenting and the antisocial behaviors exhibited by the children whereby both effects driven by the parent or child work in a reciprocal way. In the growing literature of psychopathy in juveniles, there is an argument on whether or not to use the construct on youths. Some people suggest that marking the children and adolescents as psychopathic may have negative effects such as being endorsed for more deterring placements. The limited evidence however is vague (Silva 2013).


This study provides more information on the issue by evaluating the judicial insights and recommendations to a case that is hypothetical. The results indicate that insights of cooperation and dangerousness influenced by psychopathy and recommendation for settlement. More particularly the youths who were marked as being psychopathic and recognized the psychopathic behavior were seen as less cooperative to treatment and more hazardous and had a high probability of being recommended for deterring placement than those youths who were never described or labeled as such. The impact of psychopathy on the recommendations were however not very important after they had controlled the insights of danger. This shows that the impact of psychopathy on the legislative restrictiveness might work through the alleged awfulness of the youths.


Assary, Elham, Randall T. Salekin, and Edward D. Barker. 2014. "Big-Five and Callous-Unemotional Traits in Preschoolers."? Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment37(3):371–79. Bailey, S., Tarbuck, P. and Chitsabesan, P. (2017). Forensic Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bezdjian, S., A. Raine, L. A. Baker, and D. R. Lynam. 2010. "Psychopathic personality in children: genetic and environmental contributions."? Psychological Medicine? 41(03):589–600. Kerr, Margaret, Maarten Van Zalk, and H??kan Stattin. 2011. "Psychopathic traits moderate peer influence on adolescent delinquency."? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry53(8):826–35. Rutter, M. (2010). Rutters Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Malden, Mas.: Blackwell. Salekin, R. and Lynam, D. (2010). Handbook of child and adolescent psychopathy. New York: Guilford Press. Salekin, R. T. 2016. "Psychopathy in childhood: why should we care about grandiose-Manipulative and daring-Impulsive traits?"? The British Journal of Psychiatry? 209(3):189–91. Silva, Diana Ribeiro Da, Daniel Rijo, and Randall T. Salekin. 2013. "Child and adolescent psychopathy: Assessment issues and treatment needs."? Aggression and Violent Behavior18(1):71–78.
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Psychopathic Traits in Childhood and Their Effects on Delinquency. (2018, Dec 14). Retrieved July 22, 2024 , from

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