Maturation as a Promoter of Change in Features of Psychopathy Between Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

Date01 January 2022
Published date01 January 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Maturation as a Promoter of
Change in Features of
Psychopathy Between
Adolescence and
Emerging Adulthood
Evan C. McCuish
and Kelsey Gushue
The relationship between psychopathy and negative behavioral, social, and health outcomes has lead
to calls to identify factors that promote change in features of psychopathy. Given that maturation has
important implications for changes in personality more broadly, it also may be informative of changes
in specific personality traits associated with psychopathy. Rocque’s integrated maturation theory
was used in the current study to guide the measurement of psychosocial, adult social role, and
identity maturation domains among boys and girls from the Pathways to Desistance Study
(n¼1,354). Based on cross-lagged dynamic panel models, within-individual change in temperance
(psychosocial maturation), workorientation and consideration of others(adult social role maturation),
and moral disengagement (identity maturation) predicted within-individual change in features of
psychopathy measured using the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory. Maturation may influence
features of psychopathy directly or indirectly through changes in a person’s social environment.
Understanding why features of psychopathy change is an important step for developing person-
oriented intervention strategies.
adult social roles, identity, longitudinal data analysis, psychopathy, psychosocial maturation
Psychopathy is defined by deficits in interpersonal (e.g., manipulative, deceitful), affective (e.g.,
callous-unemotional [CU] trai ts, lack of remorse), and behavioral (e.g., impulsivity, sensation -
seeking) domains of functioning (Andershed et al., 2002). Persons with strong features of psycho-
pathy are at-risk of various negative outcomes, including criminal behavior, poor physical health,
unemployment, low educational attainment, additional mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, mood,
and substance use disorders), victimization, and an overall poorer quality of life (Beaver et al., 2014;
School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Evan C. McCuish, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada,
V5A 1S6.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/15412040211030978
2022, Vol. 20(1) 3 –21
4 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 20(1)
Hempha¨la¨ & Hodgins, 2014; Herpers et al., 2016; Saukkonen et al., 2016). Intervention responses to
psychopathy have relied primarily on cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce the likelihood of
behavioral problems (Polaschek & Skeem, 2018). However, responses that prioritize addressing
behavioral problems ignore a variety of other negative social/health outcomes associated with
psychopathy (Reidy et al., 2015; Salekin & Lochman, 2008). Therefore, it may be prudent to focus
on addressing underlying features of psychopathy (Thornton & Blud, 2007).
Initial pessimism regarding the malleability of features of psychopathy in adolescence (see
Salekin, 2002; Seagrave & Grisso, 2002) appears to be unfounded. Using data from the Pathways
to Desistance Study, McCuish and Lussier (2020) reported that more than two-thirds of boys
involved in the justice system experienced a relative decrease in features of psychopathy. Specif-
ically, those who experienced a relative decrease on the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory (YPI;
Andershed et al., 2002) averaged a 29.05-point drop in test score (YPI test scores ranged from 50 to
200) and an average rank-order decrease of 454.99 places (out of a possible 1,169 places). Using a
different dataset on youth in the justice system, Cauffman et al. (2016) reported that baseline scores
on the Psychopathy Checklist: Yout h Version (PCL:YV; Forth et al., 200 3) were only weakly
associated with PCL:YV scores measured two years later (AUC ¼.62). Thus, changes in features
of psychopathy have been observed across different measurement tools, different samples, and both
self-report and expert ratings. An important next step is to identify factors that help promote this
change (Reidy et al., 2015).
Research has given considerable attention to the role of parents in protecting against the devel-
opment of, or influencing change in, features of psychopathy. Parents’ messages and reactions to
their child’s behavior are considered important to the child’s moral development, avoidance learn-
ing, and expressions of remorse (Hoffman, 2001; Krupic´ et al., 2020). This research, often focusing
specifically on CU traits, showed that parental warmth/hostility and parenting style were important
to between-group differences and within-individual change in features of psychopathy (e.g., Back-
man et al., 2018, 2021; Deng et al., 2020; Flexon et al., 2020; Ray, 2018; Salihovic et al., 2014;
Zhong et al., 2020). However, parents may have a less important role to play in within-individual
changes in features of psychopathy between adolescence and early adulthood. During this age-stage,
individuals exert more agency in controlling their own development. Thus, parents are less involved
in the socialization of their children (see Nurmi, 1993). This heightened agency warrants the
examination of factors that are internal to the individual.
Maturation may be an important promoter of change in features of psychopathy between adoles-
cence and emerging adulthood. During this period, individuals who experience maturation learn to
better regulate their behavior and to value and perform well in their social roles. Such individuals
also experience a clearer sense of self, improvements in self-esteem, and more favorable attitudes
toward prosocial behavior (Rocque, 2015). These aspects of maturation are inconsistent with several
features of psychopathy, including sensation-seeking, interpersonal dominance, manipulation, and
the tendency to justify negative behavior or deny responsibility for that behavior (Andershed et al.,
2002; Forth et al., 2003). It may be more than coincidence that between adolescence and emerging
adulthood maturation tends to increase (Monahan et al., 2009) and features of psychopathy tend to
decrease (McCuish & Lussier, 2020).
Studies addressing calls to investigate the relationship between psychopathy and maturation (see
Skeem & Cauffman, 2003) have focused specifically on psychosocial maturation (e.g., Cauffman
et al., 2016; Kimonis et al., 2011). However, recent conceptualizations have acknowledged that
maturation is more than this one domain. The integrated maturation theory (IMT) described matura-
tion as the product of psychosocial, adult social role, identity, civic, and neurocognitive domains
(Rocque, 2015). These domains have been identified as important precursors to personality change
(Caspi & Roberts,2001) and thus may also be importantspecifically to psychopathy.The current study
used the IMT as a framework for e xamining whether within-ind ividual changes in maturation
2Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice XX(X)

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