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Genetic and neurocognitive contributions to the development of psychopathy

  • Essi Viding (a1) and Eamon J. McCrory (a1)

An overview is provided of recent twin, molecular genetic, and magnetic resonance imaging studies that are helping to inform a model of developmental vulnerability to adult psychopathy. Although the current evidence base suggests that children with high levels of callous–unemotional traits are genetically and neurocognitively vulnerable to developing psychopathic and antisocial behaviors, existing research also clearly indicates that environmental influences play an important role. One potential implication is that interventions for children with antisocial behavior and callous–unemotional traits may need to be tailored to take into account their distinct pattern of neurocognitive vulnerability, as revealed by developmental neuroimaging studies. Specifically, interventions that pursue punishment-oriented or explicit empathy induction strategies may be less effective with this group of antisocial children. By contrast, preliminary evidence suggests that enhancing positive parenting and parental involvement, as well as applying consistent rewards may represent more promising intervention approaches.

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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Essi Viding, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1 6BT, United Kingdom; E-mail:
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