Criminal Histories and Rates of Recidivism Among Two Subtypes of Psychopathic Individuals

Date01 April 2022
Published date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 4, April 2022, 471 –491.
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© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The Mind Research Network
The University of New Mexico
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Although it is well established that individuals with psychopathic traits are a high-risk group for criminal recidivism, there
is considerable evidence that psychopathy is a heterogeneous personality disorder comprised of two subtypes who differ on
levels of negative affect (NA). However, few studies have examined differences in criminal histories, and fewer still have
investigated differences in recidivism among subtypes of psychopathy. The current study compared criminal histories and
recidivism rates between psychopathy subtypes differing in NA (high-NA vs. low-NA) within a sample of adult males incar-
cerated in state prisons. The high-NA and low-NA psychopathy subtypes did not differ on histories of total, nonviolent, or
violent crime, and did not differ on rates of total, nonviolent, or violent recidivism. This finding highlights equally high
levels of criminal risk associated with both subtypes of psychopathic individuals. Intervention strategies should be prioritized
for both subgroups to effectively reduce the criminal costs associated with psychopathy.
Keywords: psychopathy; subtypes; recidivism; criminal history; negative affect
Incarceration is a costly system in the United States, with a total of approximately US$43
billion spent annually on state prisons across the country (Henrichson & Delaney, 2012).
Unfortunately, rates of recidivism remain very high, with an estimated 83% of incarcerated
individuals in the United States being rearrested at least once after their release from prison
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Monika Dargis is now affiliated with New York Presbyterian–Weill Cornell Medicine. We
thank the many staff at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and incarcerated individuals who made this
research possible, and are especially indebted to Warden Michael Meisner, Warden Cathy A. Jess, Warden
Jennifer McDermott, and Dr. Kevin Kallas. This project was supported by the following funding sources:
MH109329 (Jean Decety), AA026290 (Kent Kiehl), MH090169 (David Kosson), and MH114028 (Carla
Harenski). Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Shelby S. Weaver, Department of
Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1202 West Johnson St., Madison, WI 53706; e-mail: sweaver3@
1033329CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211033329Criminal Justice and BehaviorWeaver et al. / Rates of Recidivism in Psychopathic Subtypes
or jail (Alper et al., 2018). High rates of recidivism have led to research dedicated to under-
standing factors that may influence individuals’ risk for reoffense (Andrews et al., 2006);
however, evidence-based, effective interventions to reduce recidivism are still needed.
Antisocial personality characteristics have consistently been documented as predictors of
recidivism (Andrews et al., 2006). In particular, individuals with high levels of psychopa-
thy, a personality disorder characterized by callous and impulsive antisocial behavior, con-
stitute a particularly high-risk group for recidivism. Individuals high in psychopathy are 3
times more likely to reoffend generally and 4 times more likely to reoffend violently than
nonpsychopathic individuals (Hemphill et al., 1998). In fact, the Psychopathy Checklist–
Revised (PCL-R), the most widely used assessment of psychopathy in forensic settings,
although not a risk assessment tool itself, has become increasingly commonly used in the
assessment of risk (DeMatteo & Edens, 2006). Factor analyses indicate PCL-R can be
divided into two distinct factors of personality traits, one factor capturing Interpersonal and
Affective traits (Factor 1) and the other capturing Lifestyle and Antisocial traits (Factor 2;
Hare et al., 1990). Item response theory (IRT) suggests that the two factors can be divided
into four separate Facets, which correspond to the Interpersonal, Affective, Lifestyle, and
Antisocial traits (Hare, 2003).
Although psychopathy is typically understood as a dimensional construct (Edens et al.,
2006; Miller et al., 2001), identifying discrete groups of highly psychopathic individuals may
be informative from a clinical perspective because it has been well documented that there may
be different paths to clinical levels of psychopathy. Importantly, research shows there may be
unique genetic contributions to different facets of psychopathy and subtypes of highly psy-
chopathic individuals (Ireland et al., 2020; Sadeh et al., 2013), which could inform unique
treatment targets. Most studies that have examined subtypes in psychopathy have done so
using a discrete cutoff (e.g., PCL-R score 30), rather than continuous PCL-R scores, and
have identified two subtypes of highly psychopathic individuals who differ on levels of nega-
tive affect (NA; Blackburn et al., 2008; Claes et al., 2014; Dargis & Koenigs, 2018a, 2018b;
Gill & Stickle, 2016; Hicks et al., 2004; Kimonis et al., 2012, 2013; Mokros et al., 2015;
Newman et al., 2005; Newman & Schmitt, 1998; Olver et al., 2015; Skeem et al., 2003, 2007;
Tatar et al., 2012). Identifying discrete subgroups of highly psychopathic individuals who dif-
fer on clinically relevant variables (e.g., experience of internalizing vs. externalizing psycho-
pathology) may better inform individualized targets for treatment and intervention (see Dargis
& Koenigs, 2018a, for discussion on primary/secondary subtypes related to NA and anxiety).
These clinical differences, in combination with high rates of recidivism, make it necessary to
focus research and treatment among this high-risk group of highly psychopathic individuals.
Although there are widespread differences in study methodology to derive subtypes, a
two-subtype model has consistently been demonstrated. For example, Mokros et al. (2015)
utilized latent class analysis to differentiate a Manipulative group (high Facet 1) and an
Antisocial group (high Facet 4). Other studies have shown differences in NA among two
clusters of psychopathic individuals when clustered based on personality inventories and
not PCL-R scores (e.g., Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire [MPQ], NEO Five-
Factor Inventory [NEO-FFI]; Claes et al., 2014; Dargis & Koenigs, 2018a, 2018b; Gill &
Stickle, 2016). Hicks and Drislane (2018) summarize a number of studies finding two clus-
ters of psychopathic individuals, and studies finding more than two clusters commonly
describe one with higher levels of anxiety, childhood trauma, and Factor 2 scores, and
another showing higher Factor 1 scores, lower anxiety, and fewer psychiatric concerns. In

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