Youth Psychopathic Traits and Their Impact on Long-Term Criminal Offending Trajectories

AuthorJulie L. Wershler,Heather L. Dyck,Fred Schmidt,Mary Ann Campbell
Published date01 July 2013
Date01 July 2013
Subject MatterArticles
Youth Psychopathic Traits
and Their Impact on
Long-Term Criminal
Offending Trajectories
Heather L. Dyck
, Mary Ann Campbell
, Fred Schmidt
, and
Julie L. Wershler
The current study examined long-term offending patterns in relation to youth psychopathic traits.
Criminal records of 126 adolescent offenders (80 male; 46 female) were analyzed for criminal
activity between the ages of 12 and 23. Total scores on the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version
were positively correlated with a higher number of overall offending incidents. After classifying
youths into low (n¼62), moderate (n¼26), and high (n¼38) psychopathic trait groups, results
indicated that the moderate- and high-trait groups had consistently higher mean rates of criminal
events (i.e., violent, nonviolent, drug related, and technical violations) throughout the follow-up
period than the low-trait group. Contrary to what has been argued in previous psychopathy
literature, a decrease in offending over time was observed in all three psychopathic trait groups.
These results suggest that youths with psychopathic traits tend to display a higher level of criminal
activity during adolescence, but are similar to lower psychopathic groups in also showing at least an
initial decline in this behavior as they approach early adulthood.
young offenders, psychopathic traits, criminal offending patterns, longitudinal
Many adult offenders with high levels of psychopathic traits have long histories of antisocial
behavior (Frick, 2009). A number of longitudinal studies have focused on the behavior patterns
of children and adolescents in an effort to distinguish those at risk for such persistent criminality.
Two primary patterns of antisocial behavior have been found in youth (i.e., adolescent limited
[AL] and life course persistent [LCP]) and are characterized by severe antisocial behaviors (e.g.,
Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick at Saint John Campus, Canada
Children’s Centre Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
Lakehead University, ON, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Heather L. Dyck, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, PO Box 4400, Fredericton, NB E3B 5A3, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
11(3) 230-248
ªThe Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204012469414
theft, aggression, assault) that are more extreme and more frequent than behaviors committed by
typically developing youth. These atypical patterns are differentiated by the age at which the anti-
social behavior emerges and in terms of how long the behavior persists (Bergman & Andershed,
2009; Frick, 2009; Frick & Viding, 2009; Moffitt, 1993; Reinecke, 2006).
The AL pattern captures youth whose onset of antisocial behavior is in adolescence, but desists by
late adolescence or early adulthood (Moffitt, 1993). AL youth have been described as an extreme
form of typical rebellion (Frick & Viding, 2009), and tend to commit crimes that symbolize adult
privileges or attack adult restrictions (e.g., substance use and vandalism; Frick, 2009; Frick & Vid-
ing, 2009; Lacourse et al., 2002; Moffitt, 1993; Moffitt, Caspi, Harrington, & Milne, 2002; Odgers
et al., 2008). AL youth are more likely to display reactive aggression as opposed to the instrumental
violence more common to other chronic antisocial pathways (Frick & Marsee, 2006; Frick & Vid-
ing, 2009; Moffitt, 1993; Salekin, 2006). Moffitt (1993) argued that the desistence of antisocial
behavior among AL youth arises when there is an emergence of more tangible adult roles and
rewards, paired with socially acceptable means by which the youth can achieve those roles and
TheLCP,alsoreferredtoaschildhood-onset, pattern is characterized by stable manifestations
of antisocial behaviors during childhood that persist through adolescence and adulthood. LCP
youth are small in number, but engage in a disproportionate amount of crime (Broidy et al.,
2003; Fontaine, McCrory, Boivin, Moffitt, & Viding, 2011; Lacourse et al., 2002; Moffitt,
1993; Moffitt et al., 2002; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; Reinecke, 2006; Vincent, Vitacco, Grisso,
& Corrado, 2003). In addition, LCP youth demonstrate heterotypic continuity, meaning that the
manifestation of antisocial behaviors change over time due to variations in the social opportunities
afforded by each stage of development (e.g., hitting at age 4, selling drugs during preteen years,
fraudinmidlife).LCPyouthcommitawidervariety of offenses than their AL counterparts,
including both reactive and instrumental aggression and victim-oriented offenses (e.g., violence,
fraud), indicating a degree of control and planning in the use of antisocial behavior (Frick, 2009;
Frick & Viding, 2009; Lacourse et al., 2002; Moffitt, 1993; Moffit t et al., 2002; Odgers et al.,
2008). LCP youth have demonstrated neurological functioning deficits, including lower verbal
abilities and poorer executive control (Frick, 2009; Moffitt, 1993; Odgers et al., 2008). LCP youth
have been found to be at an increased risk for developing psychopathology later in life, including
antisocial personality disorder, hyperactivity problems, substance dependence problems, and
emotional issues (Fontaine et al., 2011; Moffitt, 1993; Moffitt et al., 2002; Odgers et al., 2008;
Piquero, Farrington, Nagin, & Moffitt, 2010). In general, the best predictors of the LCP pathway
include an unstable upbringing and the youth’s internalized norm-breaking tendencies (Bergman
& Andershed, 2009; White & Frick, 2010).
Patterns of antisocial behavior have long-term implications for later life, beyond the negative
consequences of the behaviors themselves. LCP individuals have worse socioeconomic status,
mental health, and physical health outcomes than individuals with adolescent onset, childhood
limited, or no antisocial behaviors after a 25-year follow-up period (Odgers et al., 2008). The
LCP trajectory has been demonstrated cross-culturally,andexistsinbothoffenderandcommu-
nity populations (Bergman & Andershed, 2009; Broidy et al., 2003; Laco urse et al., 2002; Mof-
fitt, 1993; Moffitt et al., 2002; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999; Odgers et al., 2008; Piquero et al.,
2010). Piquero, Farrington, Nagin, and Moffitt (2010) suggested that membership in the LCP
group is a significant predictor of the number of offenses committed later in life. Due to the
nature of their aggression, their persistence in antisocial behaviors, their personality character-
istics, and their small representation within the general population, some researchers have
hypothesized that LCP youth are at greater risk of being diagnosed as psychopathic in adult-
hood (Frick, 2009; Frick & Marsee, 2006; Moffitt, 1993; Moffitt et al., 2002; Viding, Blair,
Moffitt, & Plomin, 2005).
Dyck et al. 231

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