Correlates of Change in Adolescent Psychopathic Traits
Newman, Jan Everhart
Type of Degreethesis
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Modeled after conceptualizations of adult psychopathy, adolescent psychopathy has been defined as a serious personality disorder characterized by a distinctive constellation of interpersonal, affective, and behavioral traits (Cooke & Michie, 2001; Forth, Kosson, & Hare, 2003; Lee et al., 2010; Skeem, Poythress, Edens, Lilienfeld, & Cale, 2003). Most importantly, prior research indicates that, although adolescent psychopathy shares a similar nomological net with adult psychopathy, there are important developmental differences. These developmental differences underscore the continuing debate framed by important ethical and developmental concerns regarding the assessment of psychopathic traits in youth. A critical developmental concern relates to the levels of continuity and change in psychopathic traits during the adolescent. Moreover, while adult psychopathy demonstrates a theoretically meaningful pattern of convergent and divergent relations with the psychopathological domains of externalizing and internalizing symptomatology, adolescent psychopathy typically differs from this pattern; namely, greater levels of comorbidity across both psychological domains and divergent relationships at the dimensional level. Research examining the potential change in adolescent psychopathic traits during the adolescent period and how comorbid psychopathology may influence the direction of this change has important implications for understanding the developmental trajectory of the disorder and informing intervention strategies. This study examined both the change in psychopathic traits and the correlates of change in a sample of 90 male adolescent offenders adjudicated for committing a sex offense. Mean differences were observed in PCL:YV total scores and scores across all four latent psychopathy dimensions; however, significant mean reductions were observed between administrations for all scores except antisocial scores. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses via the regressor variable method were used to model the change in psychopathy scores and to examine the correlates of such change. Not surprisingly, pretest scores accounted for a significant proportion of the posttest variance in PCL:YV total and factor scores. The regressions indicated that, after controlling for pretest scores, only internalizing symptoms (depressive-trauma symptom presence) and the assessment interval accounted for significant change in PCL:YV scores across treatment. Depressive-trauma symptom presence was associated with a decrease in PCL:YV total scores and interpersonal scores across treatment. Longer assessment intervals were associated with an increase in interpersonal scores across treatment. Contrary to prior research, externalizing symptom presence did not predict an increase in PCL:YV scores. Directions for future research and the importance of further studies regarding the change in adolescent psychopathic traits and the correlates of such change are discussed.