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Perinatal and early-life factors associated with stable and unstable trajectories of psychopathic traits across childhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2021

Vincent Bégin*
School of Criminology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Nathalie M.G. Fontaine
School of Criminology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Frank Vitaro
Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada School of Psychoeducation, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Michel Boivin
Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada School of Psychology, Laval University, Quebec, Canada
Richard E. Tremblay
Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Department of Psychology, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada Department of Pediatrics, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada School of Public Health, Physiotherapy & Population Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Sylvana M. Côté
Research Unit on Children's Psychosocial Maladjustment, Montreal, Quebec, Canada School of Public Health, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
Author for correspondence: Vincent Bégin, E-mail:; Nathalie M.G. Fontaine, E-mail:



This study aimed to identify perinatal and early-life factors associated with trajectories of psychopathic traits across childhood.


Participants were 1631 children (51.5% girls) from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. A wide range of perinatal and early-life factors were assessed from pregnancy to age 2.5 years using medical files and mothers’ reports. Psychopathic traits were assessed via teachers’ reports at ages 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12 years. Latent class growth analyses and multinomial logistic regressions controlling for child sex were conducted. Two-way interaction effects between perinatal/early-life factors and child sex were explored.


Four trajectories of psychopathic traits were identified: High-stable (4.48%), Increasing (8.77%), Decreasing (11.46%), and Low-stable (75.29%). A few perinatal factors and most child-level and family-level early-life factors significantly increased the odds of following the High-stable v. the Low-stable trajectory. Higher levels of psychotropic exposures during pregnancy, socioeconomic adversity, child's physical aggression, child's opposition, mother's depressive symptoms, and hostile parenting increased the likelihood of following the Increasing instead of the Low-stable trajectory. Higher socioeconomic adversity, mother's depressive symptoms, and inconsistent parenting were associated with membership to the High-stable instead of the Decreasing trajectory. Most associations were not moderated by child sex.


These results shed light on the perinatal and early-life factors that are associated with specific pathways of psychopathic traits during childhood and suggest that different factors could be targeted to prevent the exacerbation (v. low and stable levels) or the stability at high levels (v. attenuation) of these traits.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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