The severity and stability of antisocial behavior in adult psychopathy, its relative recalcitrance to treatment, and the focus on the assessment of personality inherent in the construct, led several researchers on child and adolescent antisocial behavior to borrow the construct of psychopathy from the adult literature in the hope that earlier identification and intervention might be more effective. Towards this end, several instruments have been constructed to assess psychopathic traits in adolescence and childhood (Forth, Kosson, & Hare, 2003
; Frick, O’Brien, Wootton, & McBurnett, 1994
; Lynam, 1997
); each instrument attempts to assess the traits constituting psychopathy in adults using measures that are more appropriate developmentally.
Initial work examining juvenile psychopathy was rather adevelopmental, focusing on recreating the nomological network of adult psychopathy in juveniles. With few exceptions, juvenile psychopathy appears to act like adult psychopathy (see Lynam & Gudonis, 2005
). The convergence is particularly strong in the relation between juvenile psychopathy and offending (see Kotler & McMahon, 2005
). Robust moderate associations between measures of juvenile psychopathy and concurrent antisocial behavior have been observed in clinical (Christian, Frick, Hill, Tyler, & Frazer, 1997
; Enebrink, Andershed, & Langstrom, 2005
; Frick et al., 1994
; Stafford & Cornell, 2003
), community (Lynam, 1997
; Frick, Cornell, Barry, Bodin, & Dane, 2003
), and offender (Kosson, Cyterski, Steuerwald, Neumann, & Walker-Matthews, 2002
; Murrie, Cornell, Kaplan, McConville, & Levy-Elkon, 2004
; Salekin, Leistico, Neumann, DiCicco, & Duros, 2004
) samples. Within offender samples, measures of juvenile psychopathy have been shown to predict institutional infractions (Brandt, Kennedy, Patrick, & Curtin, 1997
; Murrie et al., 2004
; Spain, Douglas, Poythress, & Epstein, 2004
; Stafford & Cornell, 2003
) and re-offending following release (Catchpole & Gretton, 2003
; Corrado, Vincent, Hart, & Cohen, 2004
; Falkenbach, Poythress, & Heide, 2003
; Gretton, McBride, Hare, O’Shaughnessy, & Kumka, 2001
). Finally, several studies have shown that juvenile psychopathy predicts antisocial behavior above and beyond other well-known risk factors, including previous offending, aggression, conduct problems, impulsivity, IQ, and attention problems (Frick et al., 2003
; Lynam, 1997
; Piatigorsky & Hinshaw, 2004
; Salekin et al., 2004
). All of these relations are consistent with those observed in adults.
Juvenile psychopathy has also been found to relate as predicted to constructs that do not involve offending, such as personality, cognitive processing, and other forms of psychopathology. Juvenile and adult psychopathy are related in similar ways to basic dimensions of personality (Lynam et al., 2005
; Salekin, Leistico, Trobst, Schrum, & Lochman, 2005
). Psychopathic juveniles, like their adult counterparts, show problems in emotional processing (e.g., Blair & Coles, 2000) and deficits in behavioral inhibition or impulsivity (e.g., O’Brien & Frick, 1996
). The relations between juvenile psychopathy and other forms of psychopathology are somewhat divergent from what is observed for adults, although this may be due to higher rates of comorbidity among childhood disorders (Salekin & Frick, 2005
). Lynam (1997)
and Salekin et al. (2004)
both report that psychopathic juveniles are more prone to externalizing problems than to internalizing problems, but neither study found the negative relations between juvenile psychopathy and internalizing problems often observed in adults.
More recent research on the construct, however, has begun to examine more basic developmental issues and concerns including the assessment of juvenile psychopathy using an “imported” instrument and the stability and predictive validity of psychopathy from adolescence into adulthood. For example, using data from the middle sample of the Pittsburgh Youth Study and items from the Common Language Q-sort (Caspi et al., 1992
), Lynam, Derefinko, Caspi, Loeber, and Stouthamer-Loeber (2007)
compared empirically the content of an imported instrument, the Childhood Psychopathy Scale (CPS; Lynam, 1997
), to the content of scales created using more “indigenous” approaches—expert ratings of “the fledgling Cleckley psychopath” and a scale derived empirically using correlations with adult psychopathy. These authors found a very high degree of overlap among the items included on each scale with content correlations ranging from .90 to .95 and convergent correlations approaching the reliability of the measures. As a second example of more basic research, Lynam, Caspi, Moffitt, Loeber, and Stouthamer-Loeber (2007)
examined the stability between psychopathy assessed at age 13 using the mother-reported CPS and the interviewer-rated Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (Hart, Cox, & Hare, 1995
) at age 24 in 250 young men from the Pittsburgh Youth Study. Despite the long time lag (11 years on average), differences in method and source of assessment (mother-report versus interview rating) and some differences in content, psychopathy was found to be moderately stable (r = .31) from early adolescence into young adulthood.
One crucial and basic developmental issue raised by critics (Edens, Skeem, Cruise, & Cauffman, 2001
; Seagrave & Grisso, 2002
), however, remains relatively unexplored—the impact of developmental changes on psychopathy during adolescence. Adolescence is a developmental period filled with biological, social, and cognitive changes. Adolescents face a number of new developmental tasks including developing coherent identities, establishing relations with peers, and developing independence from parents. These changes and transitions may serve as contributors to discontinuity in pathological personality generally and psychopathy specifically. Seagrave and Grisso argued explicitly that normative developmental change may masquerade as juvenile psychopathy, identifying 8 specific characteristics of psychopathy that they believe may have transient developmental parallels: glibness, grandiosity, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse, shallow affect, callousness, and failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions. Both possibilities would serve to reduce the stability of juvenile psychopathy across adolescence, underscore concerns about the application of personality disorder terms to adolescents, and render the juvenile psychopathy much less useful.
Although there is little evidence available to assess whether the specific psychopathic traits identified by Seagrave and Grisso (2002)
show normative changes across adolescence alone or in combination, there is evidence for change in related constructs. Adolescents are more likely than children and adults to engage in a variety of risky behaviors, including binge drinking, smoking, casual sex, and criminal behavior (e.g., Wiesner & Silbereisen, 2003
; Windle, Mun, & Windle, 2005
). In fact, one of the most robust findings in the criminology literature is a curvilinear relation between age and crime such that offending for all crime types rises sharply in mid-adolescence and declines slightly less sharply again in young adulthood (e.g., Farrington, Loeber, & Jolliffe, 2008
). Paralleling the changes in antisocial behavior are changes in the way in which time is spent; across adolescence, individuals spend more and more time in unstructured activities with peers—a robust predictor of delinquent involvement (Osgood, Wilson, O’Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996
). Also paralleling these changes, are changes in the adolescent brain that seem to render adolescents more sensitive to the reward value, and therefore less sensitive to the cost, of certain behaviors (Steinberg, 2008
). A priori
, one might expect, based on the robust relation between psychopathy and antisocial behavior, that psychopathy might also show normative developmental change.
Unfortunately, there are very few studies that have examined the stability of juvenile psychopathy across time. The study on stability discussed earlier by Lynam et al. (2007)
examined the stability between psychopathy scores in early adolescence and young adulthood, bypassing mid- and late-adolescent stability. Frick, Kimonis, Dandreaux, and Farell (2003)
examined the stability of scores on the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD; Frick & Hare, 2001
) across four years in a small (n = 98) sample of non-referred children in the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh grades at the first assessment. The sample was selected from a larger population in order to over-represent individuals scoring high on the two dimensions of the APSD—callous-unemotional traits (CU) and impulsive conduct problems (ICP). Within-informant stability, calculated using intraclass correlations, ranged from .88 at two-year follow-up to .80 at four-year follow-up; the instantaneous stability was .93. Although the results support the stability of juvenile psychopathy across adolescence, more research is clearly required. The sample for this study was quite small with 98 children at the first assessment and 79 at the last. The small sample, in addition to raising concerns about replication, precluded examination of the relation between age and psychopathy and prevented separate examinations of stability among those selected because they were low and those selected because they were high on the APSD. This extreme-groups selection procedure may have artificially inflated stability estimates. Finally, the study did not avail itself of recent improvements in methodology for analyzing longitudinal data; the advantages offered by the linear mixed modeling approach used here are articulated in the next paragraph.
The present study extends the previous work by Frick et al. (2003)
to examine the stability of juvenile psychopathy across adolescence specifically and the issue of stability in personality pathology more generally. Using data from over 1,500 boys from the three cohorts of the Pittsburgh Youth Study, we examine the stability of juvenile psychopathy from age 7 to age 18. Relative stability as a function of age and absolute stability are examined within high- and low-risk groups. We employ linear mixed models incorporating both fixed and random effects. These models have several advantages over more traditional correlational approaches. First, they allow explicit modeling of temporal trends in mean responses that can depend on one or more covariates. Second, they accommodate various sources of departure from these trends: contributions of unmeasurable subject-specific attributes that are static over time, contributions of unmeasurable subject-specific attributes that evolve over time, and measurement errors. Third, linear mixed models can accommodate missing data: a subject with one or more missing observations is not excluded from the computations involved in parameter estimation. To the extent that developmental changes across adolescence render personality pathology unstable across this same period, several findings should emerge. First, the assessment of such pathology should be relatively unreliable. Second, the stability of such pathology across adolescence should be low. Third, to the extent that normative developmental change affects personality pathology scores, scores should change across adolescence. Fourth and finally, the predictive power of personality pathology should also change across developmental. The present paper examines each of these possibilities.