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Examining Differences in Psychopathy, Childhood Trauma, and Dissociation Among Female Offenders

23 July 2018


Psychopathy is a personality syndrome that has been widely studied in male samples, and women are underrepresented in the literature. The field’s etiological understanding of psychopathy is limited, but theorists have proposed that dissociation in response to early trauma may play an important role in the development of the affective and interpersonal features of psychopathy (Daversa, 2010; Porter, 1996). However, few studies have tested these theories. Women with psychopathy tend to experience high levels of trauma and PTSD (Hicks, Vaidyanathan, & Patrick, 2010), making them an ideal population in which to examine dissociation’s role in explaining the relationship between trauma and psychopathy. The purpose of the present study was to extend the field’s understanding of psychopathy among women and to test etiological theories of psychopathic features. The findings indicated that both factors of psychopathy were related to antisocial features, aggression, depression, borderline features, PTSD symptoms, and dissociation. Childhood abuse history was significantly related to the antisocial features of psychopathy. There was also an indirect effect observed between childhood abuse history and the interpersonal/affective features of psychopathy through dissociation. These results extend the understanding of psychopathy and external correlates among women and suggest that dissociation is at least one of the relevant factors in explaining the relationship between childhood trauma and the affective and interpersonal features of psychopathy in women.


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