Psychopathy and antisocial behaviour in psychopathy is an

Psychopathy is a characterised
by its fundamental deficits in emotional responsivity, alongside with
antisocial behaviours (Hare, 2003; Matthews, 2014). Despite prevalence of
approximately 1% in general population (Freeman et al., 2011), more than 90% of
male psychopaths in the States are imprisoned mostly as a consequence of
violent offence, and this imposes around $460 billion criminality-related
social costs annually (Kiehl & Hoffman,
2011). Out of the regard for early intervention, the developmental trajectory
of psychopathy is worthy of concern. The distinctive emotional dysfunction in
psychopathy differentiates it from antisocial personality disorder, which is
mainly defined by pervasive antisocial behaviours (Matthews, 2014). Adulthood
psychopathy can possibly be traced back to the emergence of callous-unemotional
(CU) traits and severe antisocial behaviour in early childhood and/or
adolescence. CU traits, by definition, refer to lack of empathy, remorse/guilt
and shallow affect (DSM-5). As a specifier, CU traits distinguishe a Conduct
Disorder (CD) subgroup, which show more severe and chronic violent aggression
than those present conduct problems alone (Baskin-Sommers et al., 2015; Frick
& White, 2008). When considering the distinctive etiological pathway of
psychopathy, CU traits and severe misconduct seem to have additive value to
each other. The reciprocal relationship between CU traits and violence, and its
role as a potential precursor to psychopathy would be discussed in this essay.
It is argued that: on one hand, chronic instrumental violence is the
behavioural expression of CU traits, and antisocial behaviour in psychopathy is
an extension of it since they share similar psychological and biological
mechanisms; on the other hand, witnessing violence would perpetuate CU traits
and modulate their development towards psychopathic traits.


CU traits are
behaviourally expressed as chronic instrumental violence, and this pattern is
very likely to extend into adulthood as psychopathy. Across studies, children
with high levels of CU traits have shown to be displaying more instrumental,
prolonged and severe aggression than their counterparts who presented CD alone (Hawes
et al., 2014; Frick & White, 2008). Direct bullying is an example of this
form of violence. Driven by lack of moral compassion, CU traits are positively
correlated with direct bullying, and happiness and willingness of repeated
commission in children with CD (Viding et al., 2009; Gini et al., 2011;
Feilhauer et al., 2013). The stability of CU traits appears to underlie the persistency
of instrumental violence. In a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies, the
serial correlations of CU traits were around .40 to .75 across life time
(Andershed, 2010). A more specific 5-year longitudinal study further found that
the high-CU traits group was the most likely to exhibit violence versatility at
follow-up among those with high conduct problems (Baskin-Sommers et al., 2015).
It is difficult to label a child as psychopath despite the potential
psychopathic tendency shown, since executive functions, empathy and conscience
development may not be sufficiently developed until one is older (Seagrave
& Grisso, 2002). However, the strong association between CU traits and
chronic instrumental violence makes it a precursor to psychopathy. While less
than 30% of adolescent offenders with CD became psychopaths (Forth & Burke,
1998), the persistency of CU traits implicates long-lasting emotional deficits
and the subsequent instrumental violence. The combination of these corresponds
to the affective and behavioural symptoms of psychopathy.


The similarity in psychological and biological abnormality
establishes a theoretical extension from CU traits to adulthood psychopathy. On
psychological level, CU traits-led violence could be potentially perpetuated by
disrupted conscience and empathy development. Emotionally, individuals with CU
traits show diminished reactivity to distress cues. In a recent
experiment by Fanti and colleagues (2016), it was found that CU traits were
negatively correlated to startle responses and subjective arousal, and
positively correlated to positive valence when presented with violent clips.
Regression analysis further indicated such “fearlessness” as a
central construct of CU traits. Similarly, early
studies found psychopaths showed little to no change in skin resistance in response to a confederate got
shocked (Aniskiewicz, 1979; Blair et al., 1997). Recent studies provided mixed results, but consistently suggested deficits
in recognizing distress-related expressions in psychopathy (Hastings et al., 2008; Prado et al.,
2015; Kosson et al., 2002). From regression analysis,
emotional dysfunction was found to be important in mediating psychopathy and
instrumental violence (Flight & Forth, 2007). Taken all together, violent
aggression expressed by both CU traits and
psychopathy is driven by emotional deficits. Cognitively, both CU traits and psychopathy are
related to reward-dominance and punishment-insensitivity. In a study with 169
adjudicated juveniles, CU traits were significantly correlated with positive
evaluations of reward from aggression, and underestimation of negative
consequences (Pardini et al., 2003). Although Lorber and colleagues (2011)
later found no biased outcome evaluations associated with CU traits in
community samples, adjudicated samples in Pardini’s study may have higher
referential value in understanding the relationship between CU traits and
violence explicitly. Using reward dominance computer task, Frick and colleagues
(2003) provided corresponding behavioural evidence, showing a larger tendency to
continue the game for potential rewards despite increasing cues of possible
punishment in children with high CU traits. Similarly, psychopathy
was negatively correlated with fear against anticipated punishment, and
positively correlated with goal-directed drive and reward sensitivity (Hughes
et al., 2012). Nevertheless, the sense of social rewards appeared to be
“inverted” in psychopathy: psychopathic traits
were positively and negatively correlated with negative social potency (being
cruel and using others for personal gains) and prosocial interactions
respectively (Foulkes et al., 2014). To build upon similar psychological drive,
it is theoretically sensible to treat psychopathy as
a “real extension” of CU traits. With shallow affect and reward-dominant cognitive
style, individuals with CU traits are less likely to empathize others’ distress
and learn from social feedback. As a result, CU traits-led
violence sustains and develops as antisociality in adulthood psychopathy.