Attachment to caregivers and psychopathic characteristics among adolescents at risk for aggression

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(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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There has been a longstanding interest in adult psychopathy, both in research studies and clinical writings. However, only recently has the study of youth psychopathy garnered attention. Researchers are particularly interested in basic questions about the early course of psychopathy, however little work has investigated the role that attachment plays in this disorder. This dissertation investigated the relationships between adolescent-caregiver attachment patterns and psychopathic traits. Specifically, it was hypothesized that adolescents exhibiting the interpersonal and affective disturbances of psychopathy would demonstrate insecure attachment patterns characterized by a deactivation of the attachment system and marked by low anxiety and high avoidance (dismissing attachment). Participants were 109 adolescent boys and girls from two locations in British Columbia: a mental health assessment centre and two youth custody centres. Results indicated that the affective factor of psychopathy was associated with insecure attachment for both genders. Differential relationships emerged for boys and girls. For boys, higher PCL:YV total and Factor 4 scores were associated with dismissing attachment and lower attachment anxiety. For girls, however, the relationship was reversed. Girls with higher PCL:YV total and Factor 4 scores had higher attachment anxiety and less attachment dismissiveness. Implications for the construct of psychopathy are discussed.
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