Psychopathy is often viewed as a unitary construct, however, research with adults and adolescent males has revealed two heterogeneous subtypes. Primary psychopathy is presumed to have biological underpinnings and is associated with low levels of anxiety and psychological distress. In contrast, secondary psychopathy is believed to result from exposure to adversity, including childhood maltreatment, and is associated with emotional reactivity, impulsivity, and comorbid psychological problems. The current study tested for psychopathy subtypes in a sample of 141 forensic adolescent girls. Given that secondary psychopathy is thought to develop in response to adversity, the current study also explored the relationships between childhood maltreatment and psychopathy. Following procedures used in previous studies, a model-based cluster analysis of the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version factor scores and anxiety (as measured by the Youth Self-Report) was conducted. Three groups were found including a low psychopathy group, a moderate psychopathy group with low anxiety, and a high psychopathy group with high anxiety. These groups were then compared on relevant external correlates. The high psychopathy group had significantly higher rates of social problems, somatic complaints, and attention problems than both other groups. Maltreatment was significantly related to psychopathy regardless of group membership. Findings are discussed from a developmental perspective and theories of primary and secondary psychopathy are considered.
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Thesis advisor: Moretti, Marlene
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