Psychopathy is a disorder that occurs primarily in males. Offenders with psychopathic traits are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in society, particularly violent crime. Early childhood is a time when individual differences in empathy and guilt—key indicators of the construct of psychopathy—are first evident. A growing number of longitudinal studies have begun to investigate how factors in infancy and early childhood predict psychopathic‐like traits in later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. These studies have suggested that parenting styles during infancy (parental sensitivity, maternal harsh intrusion, commenting on the emotional state of the child) as well as attachment styles are predictive of later psychopathic‐like traits. In addition, child characteristics such as temperament and the functioning of biological systems such as the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis are predictive. Overall, studies have suggested that at least some of the origins of psychopathic traits are present in infancy and early childhood, which is consistent with the perspective of psychopathy as a neurodevelopmental disorder. A recent evolutionary‐developmental model provides hypotheses regarding how psychopathy may develop and why it is more common in males than females. This model, and its implications for intervention, is discussed in the context of the longitudinal studies that have been conducted on psychopathy.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder describing individuals who have high levels of a variety of traits, or characteristics. These include egocentricity, manipulativeness, pathological lying, a lack of guilt and empathy, callousness, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and irresponsibility. Individuals with high levels of these traits are thought to make up approximately 1% of the general population and account for 16% of the adult males who are in prison, jail, or on parole or probation (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). Individuals with psychopathic traits are 20 to 25 times more likely than nonpsychopaths to be in prison. It has been estimated that psychopathy accounts for $460 billion per year in criminal social costs (Kiehl & Hoffman, 2011). Individuals with psychopathic traits are much more likely to recidivate after being released and are much more likely to commit violent crimes after release (Hart, Kropp, & Hare, 1988). One study has found that offenders who score higher on psychopathy and exhibit better behavior in treatment are four times more likely to commit a new serious offense than are other offenders once released (Barbaree, 2005).
Personality disorders are primarily only considered in adulthood because they are expected to be stable, enduring traits. However, research has demonstrated that the traits of psychopathy can be measured in adolescence, and that these traits seem to be stable into adulthood. In particular, the socioemotional components of psychopathy such as “callous‐unemotional” (CU) traits, which are thought to be the core of psychopathy, are commonly measured in both children and adolescents.