Systematic Literature Review: The association between Psychopathic Personality traits and anti-social behaviour in children and adolescents; 2001-2016
Systematic Literature Review
Introduction and Background
Over the last decade or so, several authors of meta-analytic reviews have been calling attention to the association between personality and anti-social behaviour (ASB) (Cale, 2006, Jones, Miller & Lynam, 2011, Miller & Lynam, 2001). They point to the accumulating empirical evidence by conducting reviews of studies that demonstrate significant associations between both domains and lower order facets in the following established and respected models and definitions of personality: Five Factor Model (FFM), Eysenck’s PEN, Tellegen’s three factor model and Clinger’s seven factor temperament and character model. Just last year (2015), a further meta-analytic review gathered more than 30 studies showing evidence that the Personality Assessment Inventory is a key tool in predicting antisocial behaviour in both institutions and with regard to recidivism (Gardner, Boccaccini, Bitting & Edens, 2015).
This growing wealth of evidence demands to be heard in the fields of criminology and forensic psychology, as Miller & Lynam (2001) point out that this is not a new concept. Bartol & Bartol (2014) also emphasise the need for a thorough consideration of all potential influential factors in ASB, and personality has been one not adequately valued. It is acknowledged that there has, over the last 5 or 6 decades, been considerable development in the understanding and definitions of personality and this acknowledgement is used to reinforce the importance of topical, current tools with which to reliably measure and identify domains and traits in individuals who offend.
Alongside significant results such as Tellegen’s Negative Emotionality, FFM Agreeableness and Cloninger’s Cooperativeness being moderately related to ASB (Miller & Lynam, 2001), and non-significant results such as FFM Extraversion (rs = .13) and Tellegen’s Positive Emotionality (rs = .12), each meta-analytic review utilising one or several of the above personality models, outlined a strong and significant association between the psychopathy personality trait (PPT) and ASB. This stand out result provides an element of the rationale for the choice of this personality trait as the focus of this review.
The aim of this review is to cast a light on research that may have been occurring at the same time as that outlined above, but with the focus on the relationship between PPT and ASB in children and adolescents. By most established definitions of personality, developmental factors play a crucial part in the life career of an individual, criminal or otherwise. Miller and Lynam (2001) acknowledge the pivotal role of early personality in ‘life persistent ASB’ – indicating that research into times of childhood and adolescent are worthy of equal consideration.
PPT are currently the subject of much attention, particularly with regards to their formation from neglect or trauma (Craparo, 2013) which in turn may lead to offending. As such, it is this trait that is considered in this review. This review also considers the concept of ‘career criminality’ and seeks to discover evidence that points to this career being persistent or changeable. However, this review offers no assumption that such research will be found; it is an exploratory review. As such, it is also open to papers that are critical of the above focus, and offer additional or alternative hypotheses of the factors influential to child/adolescent ASB.
In November 2016, two databases were used to conduct this review into the relationship between PPT and ASB in children and adolescents. These databases; PsycINFO and PsycArticles, were available from the university library portal.
Inclusion & Exclusion
The background research material (used in the introduction/background) informed this literature review with regards to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Wishing to see what kind of research, if any, was being conducted along similar lines with children/adolescents informed the inclusive dates. Table 1 below illustrates each criterion.
Table1: Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
Inclusion Criteria Exclusion Criteria
Quantitative Methodology Qualitative Methodology
Between 2001-2016 Pre 2001
Full Text Non Full Text
Child/Adolescent Studies Personality Disorder
Anti-social Behaviour Five Factor Model
Established personality measures (e.g. ASPD) Adults only studies
Psychopathic Personality (traits)
Biological, Environmental, Protective
The search within each database was edited as follows:
1) Articles from the dates 2001 – 2016. This timeframe covered the timescale of the background material to reveal what kind of research was being conducted at the same time, and since.
2) Only full text articles were included so that a full picture of the research could be obtained.
3) Studies inclusive of Personality Disorder diagnoses were avoided as background research material did not include this and only PPT were considered relevant to this review.
4) The Five Factor model was not included in this search. Although it is bedrock in the studies that the background reviews use, its specific inclusion in this search/review would generate too many results – many with only a vague nod to the focus. Its exclusion aided the search in finding the most relevant and focussed material.
5) Only studies that used a quantitative methodology were included as this fits with the background research and ensures a fair comparison.
As mentioned in the introduction, this review aims to reveal research that was being conducted alongside the background reviews, but is not considered there. Although it has a more specific and narrow field of focus than those reviews, it advocates the usefulness of a joined up consideration. A consideration of a child’s/adolescent’s personality traits that may lead to a criminal career seems a natural precursor/addition to studies of personality domains/traits in adult offenders. For the purpose of this review, the personality trait of psychopathic personality was chosen. To identify the most useful and relevant research for this purpose, table 2 shows the key words used to search and the frequency of results for each combination.
Table 2: Key words and results frequencies.
Keyword Combination No. of results Comment
1) Children and adolescents, anti-social behaviour in children, psychopathic personality 0
2) Children and adolescents, anti-social behaviour, psychopathic personality 4
3) Children and adolescents, anti-social behaviour from a developmental perspective, psychopathic personality 0
4) Anti-social behaviour, psychopathic personality, Children 5 These results were inclusive of those in search 2.
5) Children, anti-social behaviour, protective 50 Many results in this search were replicated in search 6.
6) Children, anti-social behaviour, Environmental, biological 34 As search 5.
Diagram 1 below, shows the procedure followed to ensure the most effective selection of highly relevant studies suitable for this review.
Diagram 1: Selection process
As table 3 shows, there has been researched conducted between 2002 – 2009 that indicates PPT are influential with regards to ASB in children and adolescents. This would suggest support for adult studies purporting personality factors play a role in criminal careers. Other papers (Fritz, 2002, Portnoy, 2013 & Niv, 2013) offer limited support and encourage a wider consideration of factors including alcohol, environment, IQ and other biological/physiological factors.
Study Participants n Scale/measure used OR Intervention Purpose Outcome
Vaughn, 2008 Juvenile offenders 723 Anti-Social Process Screening Device (ASPD) & The Psychopathic Personality Inventory (short form)
To measure psychopathic traits in relation to a delinquent career Higher Psychopathy scores lineate with increases in delinquency
Vaughn, 2008 Young care leavers 404 Psychopathic Personality Inventory
( Interviews aged 17 & 19) To explore psychopathic personality traits among a foster care sample Significant yet inconsistent risk factors for diverse forms of criminal behaviour and
Fritz, 2002, Detained juvenile offenders 250 APSD Test the APSD – to predict levels of violent behaviour with psychopathic traits Specific features of psychopathy, environmental
factors in general and the use of alcohol in particular operate together to predict levels of violence
Portnoy, 2013 Critical paper A review of neuropsychological
and psychophysiology research into protective factors against antisocial behaviour in youth Identifying protective factors that reduce the probability of antisocial behaviour High IQ, resting heart rate are protective factors. Bio-social must be considered.
Niv, 2013 Longitudinal, twins aged 9-10 & 14-15. 750 Clinical Interviewing, neurocognitive testing, psychophysiological testing. behavioural genetics biometric modelling To determine whether genetic and environmental influences are as pivotal with regard to ASB
ASB influenced by genetics, shared environment and non shared environment
The purpose of this review was to search for literature from 2001-2016 showing a relationship between PPT and ASB in children/adolescents. This aimed to serve as an addition to the more broad research into Personality domains and lower order facets conducted with adults. To this end, a systematic review was designed with specific inclusion/exclusion criteria, strict search editing and exclusion to arrive at seven papers offering hypothesis in this area of research.
Previous research with adults had indicated strong associations between PPT and ASB in adults and alluded to these traits being ‘life-long’ i.e. present in childhood/adolescence. Whilst no specific hypothesis was offered for this review, this evidence provided the expectation that there would be research into, and support of a specific link in children/adolescents. As expected, higher scores of PPT were found to predict higher levels of delinquent and criminal behaviour in several papers (Vaughn, Howard & DeLisi, 2008, Vaughn 2008, Fritz, 2008). Vaughn et al went so far as to conclude that PPT should be considered in ALL future research into delinquent and criminal careers, such was their conviction of its association. In an innovative study focussing on adolescents leaving the care system, Vaughn (2008) again found that higher PPT scores gave significant risk factors for criminal behaviour and demonstrated high potential for future contact with the Criminal Justice System. Although these findings were significant they were inconsistent; leading the authors to encourage further research. Also in 2008, a Swedish study led by Fritz, sought to establish the ability of the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD) (Frick, 2001) to discriminate adequately elements of PPT in their association with elements of ASB. This is important as the APSD is the most widely used and highly considered tool; particularly for children/adolescents. Fritz, similarly to Vaugh et al (2008) and Vaugh (2008) found that PPT are reliable predictors for ASB in many areas– and that the ASPD was able to discriminate nuances in the responses. However, they suggested that PPT were mainly influential in conjunction with other factors such as alcohol and environmental.
This review also aimed to consider additional influential factors to children’s ASB, alongside PPT; specifically biological and environmental protective factors. This inclusion was deemed important due to the limitations outlined in the background reviews. Researchers are encouraged there to adopt Personality as a construct to take seriously in the research of ASB, yet also encouraged to cast a wide net to ensure evidence works together to provide the fullest picture possible. The evidence collated by Portnoy (2013) and Niv (2013) demonstrate a current trend that seeks to understand why individuals – exposed to the same conditions and traits – may not embark on a criminal career and urges readers to consider biological factors that actually protect individuals rather than only paying attention to risk factors. In addition, Niv’s twin study (2013)
suggests that differing forms of ASB are subject to a diverse range of influences, including the specificity of genetic and environmental effects.
An initial concern was that this allowance would eliminate many of the relevant papers significantly linking PPT and ASB, yet the literature search, when used with stricter parameters did not yield a substantially higher number.
This review concludes with the assertion that there is the potential for many rich layers of knowledge and understanding to be gained from research into a diverse range of potential influential factors regarding child/adolescent anti-social behaviour.
The broad construct of personality must play a part in this, as there is strong evidence that at the very least; psychopathic personality traits are key determiners in offending. Predictive measures may be particularly useful to services working with abused, traumatised children or those presenting with high aggression.
Moving forward, burgeoning research would do well to reflect on the diversity of findings outlined here and elsewhere; with the freedom to test diverging influential factors alongside and against each other. The evidence here would strongly suggest that PPT and ASB are closely related both in childhood/adolescence and adulthood and so this associated may be very useful when considering the lifelong criminal career in particular.
Systematic Literature Review
Bartol, C. & Bartol, A. (2014). Criminal Behavior A Psychological Approach (10th ed., pp. 3-4). Essex: Pearson.
Cale, E. (2006). A quantitative review of the relations between the “Big 3” higher order personality dimensions and antisocial behavior. Journal of Research In Personality, 40(3), 250-284. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2005.01.001
Craparo, G., Schimmenti, A., & Caretti, V. (2013). Traumatic experiences in childhood and psychopathy: a study on a sample of violent offenders from Italy. European Journal Of Psychotraumatology, 4(0). http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v4i0.21471
Forsman, M., Lichtenstein, P., Andershed, H., & Larsson, H. (2009). A longitudinal twin study of the direction of effects between psychopathic personality and antisocial behaviour. Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, 51(1), 39-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02141.x
Frick, P. J. & Hare, R. D. (2001). The antisocial process screening device. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.
Fritz, M., Wiklund, G., Koposov, R., af Klinteberg, B., & Ruchkin, V. (2008). Psychopathy and violence in juvenile delinquents: What are the associated factors?. International Journal Of Law And Psychiatry, 31(3), 272-279. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2008.04.010
Gardner, B., Boccaccini, M., Bitting, B., & Edens, J. (2015). Personality Assessment Inventory scores as predictors of misconduct, recidivism, and violence: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Assessment, 27(2), 534-544. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000065
Jones, S., Miller, J., & Lynam, D. (2011). Personality, antisocial behavior, and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 39(4), 329-337. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2011.03.004
Miller, J. & Lynam, D. (2001). Structural models of personality and their relation to Antisocial Behavior: A meta-analytic review*. Criminology, 39(4), 765-798. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2001.tb00940.x
Niv, S., Tuvblad, C., Raine, A., & Baker, L. (2013). Aggression and rule-breaking: Heritability and stability of antisocial behavior problems in childhood and adolescence. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 41(5), 285-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2013.06.014
Portnoy, J., Chen, F., & Raine, A. (2013). Biological protective factors for antisocial and criminal behavior. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 41(5), 292-299. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2013.06.018
Vaughn, M., Howard, M., & DeLisi, M. (2008). Psychopathic personality traits and delinquent careers: An empirical examination. International Journal Of Law And Psychiatry, 31(5), 407-416. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2008.08.001
Vaughn, M., Litschge, C., DeLisi, M., Beaver, K., & McMillen, C. (2008). Psychopathic personality features and risks for criminal justice system involvement among emancipating foster youth. Children And Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1101-1110. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.02.001.