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Born or Made? History of Child Abuse in Subtypes of Psychopathy

23 July 2010


The author examined history of childhood physical and sexual abuse in subtypes of psychopathy. Participants included 32 first-time male prison inmates from a state prison intake facility selected for having elevated psychopathy as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 2003). Model-based cluster analysis was utilized to determine variants of psychopathy using the model espoused by Skeem and colleagues (Skeem, Poythress, Edens, Lilienfeld, & Cale, 2003). A two-cluster solution obtained the best index of fit, and the two groups resembled primary and secondary psychopathy subtypes originally theorized by Karpman (1941) and found in previous studies (e.g. Hicks, Markon, Patrick, Krueger, & Newman, 2004; Skeem Johansson, Andershed, Kerr, Louden, 2007). When compared to secondary psychopaths, primary psychopaths were characterized by high PCL-R Factor 1 scores, high PCL-R Factor 2 scores, low covert narcissism, high overt narcissism, low borderline traits, and low anxiety. The groups were externally validated on stress immunity, impulsivity antisociality, and blame externalization. The psychopathic subtypes did not significantly differ on history of physical or sexual childhood abuse (Pearson χ2 (1, N = 32) = .45, p = .50, Φ = -.12.); however, a greater proportion of secondary psychopaths endorsed a history of physical and sexual abuse (70%) than primary psychopaths (58%). Overall, the results support the heterogeneity of psychopathy and will help improve our ability to manage and treat individuals with this personality disorder. Limitations and future directions are discussed.


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