Intimate partner violence is a social problem that has plagued communities for generations. The consequences of domestic violence are enormous, including psychological impairment, physical injury, homicide, and suicide. Many perpetrators of domestic violence are incarcerated as a result of their behavior. Although efforts are made to transform the negative actions and behaviors of these individuals, they often return to the same pattern of violence upon their release. The link between psychopathy and criminal behavior has been well established. It has been found in samples of individuals prone to impulsive behaviors, including those with drug and alcohol dependency, aggressive tendencies, and violent criminal pasts. Despite the research on psychopathy and violent offenders, little attention has been given to two specific traits of psychopathy, namely fearless dominance and impulsive antisociality. Further exploration of these traits could shed some light on the high rates of recidivism and treatment cessation for perpetrators of domestic violence.
To get a better look at these relationships, Rachel C. Rock of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama surveyed 483 incarcerated male domestic violence offenders. She looked at levels of psychopathy, treatment adherence and completion, and the two traits of impulsive antisociality and fearless dominance. Rock found that the most salient influence on psychopathy was impulsive antisociality and that this trait directly predicted recidivism, regardless of whether treatment was perceived as successful or not. Furthermore, the fearless dominance trait fortified the relationship between antisociality and negative treatment outcome.
Rock believes these findings are insightful and can aid in the design and implementation of batterer interventions. Group therapy is a common mode of therapy for incarcerated batterers, but based on these results may not be the most optimal first option for some. Rock notes the fact that those high in the psychopathic traits of impulsive antisociality and fearless dominance may sabotage the efforts of the clinician. “Thus, individuals high on fearless dominance are bold and narcissistic and reject the notion that they need treatment,” said Rock. “Coupled with impulsive antisociality, this combination of traits increases the likelihood of treatment failure.” Rock recommends the utilization of screening tools to determine which offenders are more likely to contribute positively to group therapy and which may be better served through individual treatment efforts.
Rock, R. C., Sellbom, M., Ben-Porath, Y. S., Salekin, R. T. (2012). Concurrent and predictive validity of psychopathy in a batterers’ intervention sample. Law and Human Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000006
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