Researchers from several universities recently collaborated on a study to determine how genetic, environmental, and interpersonal factors influence the development of psychopathy. Psychopathy is characterized by lack of emotion, dysfunctional attachments, lack of remorse or guilt, and often antisocial tendencies, thought to be caused by genetic factors. The researchers sought to determine how environmental factors, such as peer influence, parenting, neglect, or abuse, affected two specific traits of psychopathy—fearless dominance (FD) and impulsive antisociality (IA).
Using the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) and the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ), the researchers assessed 2,604 twins, all 17 years old, for several factors. They evaluated the parent-child relationship and social environment, including peer interactions. They assessed levels of antisociality and prosocial behaviors and also gauged academic performance in school. Additionally, the team looked at external events including legal issues, school problems, and other stressful life experiences.
They found that the male twins exhibited more psychopathic behaviors overall. “There was a moderate to large gender difference on MPQ-FD and MPQ-IA, with boys scoring higher on both,” said the researchers. “Boys also scored higher on antisocial peers, mother-child relationship problems, and school and legal problems. Girls scored higher on academic achievement and engagement and family level problems.” They believe these findings regarding relationship problems are significant. “This pattern of disrupted parent-child relationships and antisocial tendencies then initiates a sequence of developmental processes leading to academic failure, peer rejection, deviant peer afﬁliation, drug use, and delinquency.” They added, “Less discussed are factors that underlie the initial disrupted parent-child relationship, such as a child’s undercontrolled temperament or the parent’s own antisocial traits that then inﬂuence his or her parenting practices. We propose that genetic factors are a likely source of such individual differences that then inﬂuence other putatively environmental variables such as parent-child relationship problems.”
Hicks, B. M., Carlson, M. D., Blonigen, D. M., Patrick, C. J., Iacono, W. G., and MGue, M. (2011, August 29). Psychopathic Personality Traits and Environmental Contexts: Differential Correlates, Gender Differences, and Genetic Mediation. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025084
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