Psychopathic Traits: Trajectories in Adolescence Interview with

Selma Salihovic, Doctoral student
Center for Developmental Research
Örebro University What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Salihovic: Although previous research has examined the stability of psychopathic traits, our study offer a more nuanced perspective on development. Rather than asking whether psychopathic traits simply increase or decrease in adolescence, we asked about patterns of change for youths with different initial level of psychopathic traits. In this way, we could tease apart those youths with extreme levels from those with low and more transient levels, and follow their unique trajectories over four years. We could see that even among the youths with the highest levels there was a decreasing trend in two out of three core aspects of psychopathy. Although the degree of change was small, it was still a naturally occurring pattern for these youths, which raises the question whether an intervention designed to reduce these levels would have provided even a steeper decrease. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Salihovic: One unexpected finding is the high degree of stability for the dimension of psychopathy that reflects manipulative behavior, lying, and having an exaggerated sense of self-worth. Psychopathy is a multidimensional construct that reflects affective (e.g., callousness, lack of empathy and guilt), interpersonal (e.g., grandiosity, lying, manipulative behavior) and behavioral (e.g., irresponsible behavior, impulsivity) traits. Previous research has devoted much more attention on the affective traits of psychopathy and much less on the interpersonal and behavioral aspects. Our study reveals that only focusing on callous and unemotional traits will leave out an essential part of the story that explains how psychopathic traits develop during adolescence. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Salihovic: Our findings provide further support that psychopathic traits characterize a particularly problematic group of adolescents, and given the extent of their concurrent problems with delinquency and poor relationship quality with their parents, practitioners need to be aware of that their problems likely have different origins and different trajectories. Ultimately, this suggests that traditional treatments designed for problematic youths without psychopathic traits may not be optimal with this group. Also, not all youths with high levels of psychopathic traits in adolescence are going to become adult psychopaths, What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Salihovic: One suggestion would be to further explore the role of the environment in the development of psychopathy. Personality does not develop in a vacuum but through interactions with the environment–parents, peers, and the social context. We need more knowledge on how youths with psychopathic traits interact with their environment, and what this means for subsequent development of psychopathy.


Trajectories of Adolescent Psychopathic Traits
 Selma Salihovic,  Metin Özdemir, Margaret Kerr
Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment

August 2013


Last Updated on September 23, 2013 by Marie Benz MD FAAD