Skip to main content Accessibility help

Psychopathic personality in children: genetic and environmental contributions

  • S. Bezdjian (a1), A. Raine (a2), L. A. Baker (a1) and D. R. Lynam (a3)



The current study investigates whether the underlying factor structure of psychopathic personality traits found in adults is similar to that in children and what the extent of the genetic and environmental influences are on these psychopathic traits.


Psychopathic personality traits were assessed in a community sample of 1219 twins and triplets (age 9–10 years) through caregiver reports of each child's behavior using the Child Psychopathy Scale (CPS).


Confirmatory factor analyses revealed an optimal two-factor solution (callous/disinhibited and manipulative/deceitful) to the CPS subscales. Bivariate genetic modeling of the two computed factor scores revealed significant genetic as well as unique environmental influences on psychopathic personality traits in both boys and girls, with heritability estimates of 0.64 and 0.46, respectively, in boys and 0.49 and 0.58, respectively, in girls. No shared environmental influences on psychopathic personality traits were found.


The relationship between the two factors was mediated by both genetic and unique environmental factors common to both traits.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Dr S. Bezdjian, University of Southern California, Department of Psychology (SGM 501), Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061, USA. (Email:


Hide All
Akaike, AC (1987). Factor analysis and AIC. Psychometrika 52, 317332.
Baker, LA, Barton, M, Lozano, DI, Raine, A, Fowler, JH (2006). The Southern California Twin Register at the University of Southern California: II. Twin Research and Human Genetics 9, 933940.
Baker, LA, Barton, M, Raine, A (2002). The Southern California Twin Register at the University of Southern California. Twin Research 5, 456459.
Baker, LA, Jacobson, KC, Raine, A, Lozano, DI, Bezdjian, S (2007). Genetic and environmental bases of antisocial behavior in children: I. A multi-informant twin study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 116, 219235.
Bentler, PM (1990). Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin 107, 238246.
Bentler, PM (2002). EQS 6 Program Manual. Multivariate Software, Inc.: Encino, CA.
Bezdjian, S, Tuvblad, C, Raine, A, Baker, LA (in press). The genetic and environmental covariation among psychopathic personality traits, and reactive proactive aggression in childhood. Child Development.
Blonigen, DM, Carlson, SR, Krueger, RF, Patrick, CJ (2003). A twin study of self-reported personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences 35, 179197.
Blonigen, DM, Hicks, BM, Krueger, RF, Patrick, CJ, Iacono, WG (2006). Continuity and change in psychopathic traits as measured via normal-range personality: A longitudinal-biometric study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 115, 8595.
Brandt, JR, Kennedy, WA, Patrick, CJ, Curtin, JJ (1997). Assessment of psychopathy in a population of incarcerated adolescent offenders. Psychological Assessment 9, 429435.
Blair, RJR, Coles, M (2000). Expression recognition and behavioural problems in early adolescence. Cognitive Development 15, 421434.
Cooke, DJ, Michie, C (2001). Refining the construct of psychopathy: Towards a hierarchical model. Psychological Assessment 13, 171188.
Cruise, KR, Colwell, LH, Jr.Lyons, PM, Baker, MD (2003). Prototypical analysis of adolescent psychopathy: Investigating the juvenile justice perspective. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 21, 829846.
Edens, JF, Skeem, JL, Cruise, KR, Cauffman, E (2001). Assessment of ‘juvenile psychopathy’ and its association with violence: a critical review. Behavioral Sciences & the Law. Special Issue: Youth Violence 19, 5380.
Falkenbach, DM, Poythress, NG, Heide, KM (2003). Psychopathic features in a juvenile diversion population: reliability and predictive validity of two self-report measures. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 21, 787805.
Forth, AE (1995). Psychopathy and Youth Offenders: Prevalence, Family Background and Violence (Program Branch Users Report). Minister of the Solicitor General of Canada: Ottawa, Ontario.
Forth, AE, Kosson, DS, Hare, RD (2003). The Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version. Manual. Multi-Health Systems, Inc.: North Tonawanda NY.
Frick, PJ (1998). Conduct Disorders and Severe Antisocial Behavior. Plenum: New York.
Frick, PJ, Bodin, SD, Barry, CT (2000). Psychopathic traits and conduct problems in community and clinic-referred samples of children: further development of the Psychopathy Screening Device. Psychological Assessment 12, 382393.
Frick, PJ, O'Brien, BS, Wootton, JM, McBurnett, K (1994). Psychopathy and conduct problems in children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 103, 700707.
Hare, RD (1991). The Revised Psychopathy Checklist. Multi-Health Systems: Toronto.
Hare, RD (1983). Diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder in two prison populations. American Journal of Psychiatry 140, 887890.
Hare, RD (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R): 2nd edn. Multi-Health Systems: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Hare, RD, Forth, AE, Hart, SD (1989). The psychopath as prototype for pathological lying and deception. In Credibility Assessment. NATO Advanced Science Institutes Series. Series D: Behavioural and Social Sciences (ed. Yuille, J. C.), vol. 47, pp. 2549. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers: New York.
Harpur, TJ, Hakstian, AR, Hare, RD (1988). Factor structure of the Psychopathy Checklist. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56, 741747.
Hart, SD, Kropp, PR, Hare, RD (1988). Performance of male psychopaths following conditional release from prison. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56, 227232.
Kotler, JS, McMahon, RJ (2005). Child psychopathy: theories, measurement, and relations with the development and persistence of conduct problems. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 8, 291325.
Krueger, RF, Tackett, JL (2007). Behavior genetics designs. In Handbook of Research Methods in Personality Psychology (ed. Robins, R. W., Fraley, R. C. and Krueger, R. F.), pp. 6278. Guilford Press: New York.
Lalumiere, ML, Harris, GT, Rice, ME (2001). Psychopathy and developmental instability. Evolution and Human Behavior 22, 7592.
Larsson, H, Andershed, H, Lichtenstein, P (2006). A genetic factor explains most of the variation in the psychopathic personality. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 115, 221230.
Lynam, DR (1996). The early identification of chronic offenders: Who is the fledgling psychopath? Psychological Bulletin 120, 209234.
Lynam, DR (1997). Pursuing the psychopath: capturing the fledgling psychopath in a nomological net. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 106, 425438.
Lynam, DR (1998). Early identification of the fledgling psychopath: locating the psychopathic child in the current nomenclature. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 107, 566575.
Lynam, DR (2002). Fledgling psychopathy: a view from personality theory. Law and Human Behavior 26, 255259.
Lynam, DR, Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE, Loeber, R, Stouthamer-Loeber, M (2007). Longitudinal evidence that psychopathy scores in early adolescence predict adult psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 116, 155165.
Lynam, DR, Gudonis, L (2005). The development of psychopathy. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 381407.
Lyons, MJ, True, WR, Eisen, SA, Goldberg, J (1995). Differential heritability of adult and juvenile antisocial traits. Archives of General Psychiatry 52, 906915.
McDonald, RP (1989). An index of goodness of fit based on noncentrality. Journal of Classifications 6, 97–103.
Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Dickson, N, Silva, P, Stanton, W (1996). Childhood-onset versus adolescent-onset antisocial conduct problems in males: natural history from ages 3 to 18 years. Development and Psychopathology 1, 105118.
Neale, MC (1997). Mx: Statistical Modeling. Department of Psychiatry, Medical College of Virginia: Richmond, VA.
O'Brien, BS, Frick, PJ (1996). Reward dominance: associations with anxiety, conduct problems, and psychopathy in children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 24, 223240.
Piatigorsky, A, Hinshaw, SP (2004). Psychopathic traits in boys with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: concurrent and longitudinal correlates. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 32, 535550.
Plomin, R, DeFries, JC, McClearn, GE, McGuffin, P (2001). Behavioral Genetics. Worth Publisher: New York.
Plomin, R, DeFries, JE, McClearn, GE, Rutter, M (1997). Behavioral Genetics (3rd edn). Freeman: New York.
PosthumaD, lle D, lle, Beem, AL, de Geus, EJC, van Baal, GCM, von Hjelmborg, JB, Iachine, I, Boomsma, DI, (2003). Theory and Practice in Quantitative Genetics. Twin Research and Human Genetics 6, 361376.
Ridenour, TA, Marchant, GL, Dean, RS (2001). Is the revised psychopathy checklist clinically useful for adolescents? Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 19, 227238.
Salekin, RT (2006). Psychopathy in children and adolescents: key issues in conceptualization and assessment. In Handbook of Psychopathy (ed. Patrick, C.), pp. 389414. The Guilford Press: New York.
Salekin, RT, Leistico, AR, Neumann, CS, DiCicco, TM, Duros, RL (2004). Psychopathy and comorbidity in a young offender sample: taking a closer look at psychopathy's potential importance over disruptive behavior disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 113, 416427.
Salekin, RT, Leistico, AR, Trobst, KK, Schrum, CL, Lochman, JE (2005). Adolescent psychopathy and personality theory – the interpersonal circumplex: expanding evidence of a nomological net. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 33, 445460.
Salekin, RT, Rogers, R, Machin, D (2001). Psychopathy in youth: pursuing diagnostic clarity. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 30, 173195.
Taylor, A, Loney, BR, Bobadilla, L, Iacono, WG, McGue, M (2003). Genetic and environmental influences on psychopathy trait dimensions in a community sample of male twins. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 31, 633645.
Vincent, GM, Hart, SD (2002). Psychopathology in childhood and adolescence: implications for the assessment and management of multi-problem youths. In Multi-problem Violence Youth: A Foundation for Comparative Research on Needs, Interventions and Outcomes (ed. Corrado, R. R., Roesch, R., Hart, S. D. and Gierowski, J. K.), pp. 150163 (Series I: Life and Behavioural Sciences). IOS Press: Amsterdam.
Viding, E, Blair, RJR, Moffitt, TE, Plomin, R (2005). Evidence for substantial genetic risk for psychopathy in 7-year-olds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46, 592597.
Vitacco, MJ, Rogers, R, Neumann, CS, Harrison, KS, Vincent, G (2005). A comparison of factor models on the PCL-R with mentally disordered offenders: the development of a four-factor model. Criminal Justice and Behavior 32, 526545.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Psychopathic personality in children: genetic and environmental contributions

  • S. Bezdjian (a1), A. Raine (a2), L. A. Baker (a1) and D. R. Lynam (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.