Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Psychology

Supervisor

Dr. Peter Hoaken

Abstract

Psychopathy is a developmental disorder characterized by deficits in emotional, interpersonal, and behavioural domains. Adult psychopaths commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime and are at a heightened risk for recidivism. Research suggests that children with psychopathic traits present with deficits similar to their adult counterparts on measures of passive avoidance learning and emotional processing. There is also evidence to suggest that these children engage in differential forms of aggression. In addition, research suggests that adult psychopathy develops early in life. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics in children with psychopathic traits. The first objective of this dissertation was to examine cognitive and emotional processes in a sample of children with conduct problems (n = 56). The second objective of this dissertation was to examine the relationship between dimensions of psychopathic traits in children and two forms of aggression. The callous-unemotional traits, impulsivity, and narcissism dimensions of the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD; Frick & Hare, 2001) were examined as predictors of both reactive and proactive aggression. Youth participants completed several behavoural measures and a self-report measure of aggression. Parents or caregivers also completed questionnaires assessing behaviour, personality, and psychopathic traits in their children. As hypothesized, children with high psychopathic traits displayed deficient passive avoidance. Further, children with high psychopathic also showed a bias away from threatening images. Children’s self-reported aggression was associated with callous-unemotional traits. These findings provide support for the developmental theory of psychopathy and help to explain the potential role of psychopathic traits in aggressive behaviours. Recommendations for future research and the clinical implications of these findings are discussed.


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