Psychopathic traits in teenagers not cast in stone

September 19, 2013, Springer

Most youths are concerned about other people's feelings, they feel bad or guilty when they have done something wrong and they adhere to social rules. A small group of youths, however, does not. These youths express psychopathic personality traits that are associated with adult psychopathy, a serious personality disorder that is linked with antisocial behavior and criminality. A study conducted by Selma Salihovic and her research team at Örebro University in Sweden shows that for this small group of youth, psychopathic traits remain quite stable over a period of four years. Their findings are published in Springer's Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.

While other recent studies have tried to describe the relative stability of adolescent psychopathic traits, Salihovic and her colleagues are the first to examine the long-term and joint development during adolescence of three defining, yet separate, characteristics that are hallmark of psychopathy. These characteristics, which include traits such as lack of remorse or guilt, manipulativeness and irresponsible behavior, are associated with juvenile delinquency, future and violence.

"One of the reasons why researchers are studying earlier expressions of psychopathic is to better understand how psychopathy develops," Salihovic, in and lead author of the study, said. "Knowledge about the stability and change of these traits can help us pinpoint the developmental period when they are the least stable and therefore also more amenable to treatment."

The study followed 1,068 youths in the seventh to ninth grades from a Swedish city over a period of four years. Girls and boys were represented in almost equal number and 92.5 percent of the youths were of Swedish descent. Psychopathic traits were measured with the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory, a self-report instrument designed to capture psychopathic traits in youths 12 years and older.

Salihovic and her colleagues found four subgroups of youths who were characterized by high, low and moderate levels of psychopathic traits and decreasing or stable development. As expected, most of the adolescents in the study had low to moderate levels of psychopathic traits that continued to decline with age. These youths had low levels of delinquent behavior and reported having warm and understanding relationships with their parents. However, for a small group of youths, these characteristics remained high and stable over the course of the study period. These teenagers maintained high levels of all psychopathic traits, despite having slight dips in the levels of the callous-unemotional traits and impulsive-irresponsive behavior that are so typical of psychopathy. Not surprisingly, these were the adolescents who also reported the highest levels of delinquency, and had the most difficult relationships with their parents.

Salihovic acknowledges that for a small group of youths, in whom high and stable levels of psychopathic characteristics were found, the study results do not bode well for the future. However, she adds: "Psychopathic traits, like general personality traits, are in development during the teenage years, which means that developmental tracks are not cast in stone and that effective therapeutic intervention can change the course of development."

Explore further: Researcher publishes a study of psychopathy and criminal behavior

More information: Salihovic, S. et al (2013). Trajectories of Adolescent Psychopathic Traits, Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment. DOI: 10.1007/s10862-013-9375-0

Related Stories

Researcher publishes a study of psychopathy and criminal behavior

June 18, 2013
University of Huddersfield researcher, Dr Daniel Boduszek, has co authored a an article in the Journal of Ciminal Psychology that analyses the relationship between psycopathy and criminal behaviour.

Study suggests that a poor sense of smell may be a marker for psychopathic traits

September 20, 2012
People with psychopathic tendencies have an impaired sense of smell, which points to inefficient processing in the front part of the brain. These findings by Mehmet Mahmut and Richard Stevenson, from Macquarie University ...

Psychopathy: A misunderstood personality disorder

December 7, 2011
Psychopathic personalities are some of the most memorable characters portrayed in popular media today. These characters, like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Frank Abagnale Jr. from Catch Me If You Can and Alex from ...

Study finds night owls more likely to be psychopaths

August 1, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—People who stay up late at night are more likely to display anti-social personality traits such as narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic tendencies, according to a study published by a University ...

Psychopaths not all psychos

June 19, 2012
Jennifer Skeem’s research requires that she spend time inside the minds of individuals most of us try to avoid: psychopaths.

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.