Results show that risky decision-making is associated with psychopathic tendencies only in children with higher SES. Boys showed higher psychopathic tendencies compared to girls. Findings provide support for a biosocial perspective on externalizing behavior and extend prior biosocial findings on child antisocial behavior to child psychopathy.
As hypothesized, risky decision-making was found in psychopathic-like children living in a high SES family. These findings are consistent with the “social push” interaction hypothesis (Raine, 2002
). Conversely, no biosocial interaction was observed for the Porteus maze task, suggesting that biosocial interactions may be more prominent for socially acquired traits (risk-taking) than for more biologically acquired traits (disinhibition/impulsivity).
Few prior studies have controlled for psychosocial influences when examining neurocognition–psychopathy relationships (e.g., Schmitt, Brinkley, & Newman, 1999
). In the current study when controlling for SES and gender, all significant effects between neurocognition and psychopathic traits were abolished, with the exception of the biosocial interaction for gambling and SES. Consequently, current findings raise a reasonable control issue for future neurocognitive studies of psychopathy in both children and adults. Prior studies which have failed to observe more risky decision-making in psychopaths have not tested for biosocial interactions, and therefore may underestimate the potential influence of neurocognitive processes as potential markers for psychopathy. Psychosocial risk factors could be usefully taken into account in future biological studies of psychopathic tendencies in children to further clarify these issues.
As expected, boys show significantly higher scores on psychopathic traits compared to girls. Current findings suggest that the gender difference in psychopathic traits may be manifested as early as 11 years, and provide some limited additional construct validity for the CPS.
The present study has several potential limitations. Findings were based on a sub-group with somewhat lower IQs and social class than the larger sample from which they were drawn. While results may not generalize to a completely unselected child population, they may be expected to generalize to populations at risk (low social class, low IQ) for antisocial behavior. Current findings should be viewed as provisional and require replication and extension in future studies.
In conclusion, risky decision-making during a gambling task was associated with psychopathic tendencies only in community children with high SES. This study extends the validity of psychopathic tendencies measured in children and highlights the potential importance of studying biosocial interactions in future biological studies of psychopathy. Together with prior evidence of biosocial interactions in relation to antisocial behavior (Raine, 2002
), current findings suggest that it may be useful to explore biosocial interactions for other forms of psychopathology.