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Predictors of Psychopathic Traits


Despite replicated evidence on the predictive validity of psychopathic traits with respect to later antisocial behavior (ASB), little is known about potential risk factors for youth psychopathic traits. This knowledge may facilitate the development of targeted interventions to ameliorate and possibly prevent later ASB and related problems. Functional genotypes regulating dopamine neurotransmission are strong candidates for causal influences on psychopathic traits; similarly, parenting behavior may not only independently predict psychopathic traits, but it may also interact with youth genotype. Second, reflecting dynamic exchanges secondary to temperament (e.g., evocative gene-environment correlation), parenting behavior may mediate the association of temperament and psychopathic traits. This dissertation tested gene-environment interplay for psychopathic traits and identified mechanisms in their development using multi-method measures of parenting behavior and biologically plausible polymorphisms from candidate genes (i.e., DAT1, DRD4, DRD2). Based on two independent, yet complementary prospective longitudinal samples of 235 youth with and without ADHD who were assessed after two years (UCLA ADHD and Development Study) and 2,500 adolescents followed across 12 years (National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health), we aimed to identify potential risk factors for psychopathic traits and tested parenting behavior as a mediator of their emergence from temperament dimensions. Primary findings were three-fold: (1) across both samples, both negative and positive parenting practices uniquely predicted the development of psychopathic traits into later childhood and adulthood; (2) negative and positive parenting practices significantly moderated the associations of biologically-plausible polymorphisms from dopaminergic genes with later psychopathic traits, callous-unemotional traits, and narcissism, although patterns of moderation were not fully parallel across samples; (3) parenting behavior significantly mediated the associations of early temperament dimensions with later callous-unemotional traits and, in particular, narcissism. In addition to providing evidence for negative and positive parenting as well as dopaminergic functioning underlying psychopathic traits, these results are unique insofar as identifying putative mediators to psychopathic traits. We discuss the insight provided by our preliminary findings into risk factors for psychopathic traits, implications for evidence-based interventions, as well as the dynamic processes underlying their development as well as additional research required to further clarify pathways of risk and resilience underlying youth psychopathic traits.

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