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Early maternal and paternal bonding, childhood physical abuse and adult psychopathic personality

  • Y. Gao (a1), A. Raine (a1), F. Chan (a2), P. H. Venables (a3) and S. A. Mednick (a4)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 15 September 2009

A significant gap in the literature on risk factors for psychopathy is the relative lack of research on parental bonding.


This study examines the cross-sectional relationship between maternal and paternal bonding, childhood physical abuse and psychopathic personality at age 28 years in a community sample of 333 males and females. It also assesses prospectively whether children separated from their parents in the first 3 years of life are more likely to have a psychopathic-like personality 25 years later.


Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that: (1) poor parental bonding (lack of maternal care and low paternal overprotection) and childhood physical abuse were both associated with a psychopathic personality; (2) parental bonding was significantly associated with psychopathic personality after taking into account sex, social adversity, ethnicity and abuse; (3) those separated from parents in the first 3 years of life were particularly characterized by low parental bonding and a psychopathic personality in adulthood; and (4) the deviant behavior factor of psychopathy was more related to lack of maternal care whereas the emotional detachment factor was related to both lack of maternal care and paternal overprotection.


Findings draw attention to the importance of different components of early bonding in relation to adult psychopathy, and may have potential implications for early intervention and prevention of psychopathy.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Y. Gao, Department of Criminology, McNeil Building, Suite 483, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA19104-6286, USA. (Email:
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