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Can the causal mechanisms underlying chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories be elucidated using the psychopathy construct?

Published onJan 01, 2015
Can the causal mechanisms underlying chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories be elucidated using the psychopathy construct?

In Dawson et al. (2012), a case study was performed on two adolescent males involved in intensely violent offenses. Hours of interviewing both youth, separately, indicated a callous and unemotional disposition, intense desire to exert interpersonal dominance over others, and a contemptuous attitudes towards individuals whom they felt were ‘low functioning’, ‘ignorant’, and ‘histrionic’. They viewed their relationships as ‘temporary’, ‘replaceable’, and ‘contingent on a lack of expectation and personal opinion’. They viewed themselves as ‘on a different intellectual level’, ‘able to project whomever they wanted to be’, ‘manipulative’, and deserving of special treatment due to ‘exceptional abilities’. Although lower levels of self control were present in both youth, this construct central to criminological models of offending behavior insufficiently explained their offenses, which were often thoroughly planned. Greater precision appeared necessary to explain why these specific types of offenders were involved in crime.


Emerging from these cases, as well as from the lead author’s experience as the Principal Investigator of a multi-decade long study, the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study (ISVYOS), on over 1,400 incarcerated young offenders was a concern that, because low self control was typical of almost all offenders, it would be rather ineffective in helping explain differences among offenders at the ‘deep end’ of the criminal justice system. Missing from contemporary criminological models of offending are constructs that can explain within-group variations among offenders, especially variations between relatively minor offenders and the small group of offenders responsible for the majority of all crime (e.g., Wolfgang, Figlio, & Sellin, 1972). Specifically, we are interested in the question of why some are involved in chronic offending, persistently serious offending, or persistently violent offending, whereas others are involved in relatively ubiquitous, minor offenses and do not continue offending into adulthood. Based on the strong symptoms of psychopathy identified in the two cases discussed above as well as more recent studies on psychopathy and offending trajectories (e.g., Corrado, McCuish, DeLisi, & Hart, this issue; McCuish, Corrado, Lussier, & Hart, 2014; McCuish, Corrado, DeLisi, & Hart, this issue), the perspective that offenders constitute a homogenous (e.g., Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) group seems flawed even when only looking at offenders in the deep end of the justice system. Psychopathy seems necessary, though not sufficient for explaining this heterogeneity by identifying the causal mechanisms associated with chronic, serious, and violent (CSV) offending trajectories.

The articles in this special edition are helpful for illustrating both strengths and weaknesses concerning psychopathy and (a) its integration into existing criminological theories (DeLisi & Vaughn, this issue; Fox, Jennings, & Farrington, this issue) and neuropsychological models of offending (Umbach, Berryessa, & Raine, this issue), (b) its use as a risk factor for the development of offending over time (Corrado et al., this issue; Walters, this issue), and (c) its use as a risk factor for specific types of offenders, including female offenders (Forouzan & Nicholls, this issue), institutional offenders (Shaffer, McCuish, Corrado, Behnken, & DeLisi, this issue), sexual offenders (Cale, Lussier, McCuish, & Corrado, this issue), and violent offenders (McCuish et al., this issue). Given the research in this special edition and elsewhere (e.g., DeLisi, 2009; DeLisi & Piquero, 2011; Vaughn & DeLisi 2008; Vaughn, Howard, & DeLisi, 2008), we believe that the construct is necessary for identifying causal mechanisms underlying chronic, serious, and violent (CSV) offending trajectories. However, there are also other important risk factors for involvement in CSV offending trajectories (Corrado et al., this issue; McCuish et al., this issue), which implies that psychopathy is not sufficient as an explanation for the causal mechanisms underlying these trajectories.

Very importantly, we also recognize the importance of scaling back the expectation that psychopathy can explain ‘all crime, all the time’. Psychopathy represents a narrow, specific, and rare form of personality in the general population (e.g., Skeem & Mulvey, 2001), whereas general offending represents a broad, generic, and common form of behavior in the general population (e.g., Le Blanc & Fréchette, 1989; Moffitt, 1993). Using a precise instrument to hit a broad target is easy, but implies that there is much more of the target to be explored. It therefore seems inappropriate to argue that psychopathy is useful for understanding the causal mechanisms underlying offending in general given that the former could not capture the scope of the latter. Similarly, as the target narrows and becomes rarer (e.g., from offenders to ‘chronic’ offenders), hitting that target requires a level of precision greater than that provided by broader constructs that are more common (e.g., low self-control). It also seems inappropriate to expect a broader construct such as low self-control to be helpful in explaining CSV offending trajectories (see Figure 1 for an illustration of this discussion). However, there does appear to be an overlap between the prevalence of psychopathy and the prevalence of chronic offenders (Vaughn & DeLisi, 2008). At least tentatively then, psychopathy appears to provides the type of construct precision necessary to explain the causal mechanisms responsible for the low frequency but extremely important CSV offending trajectories.

--Insert Figure 1 about Here--

This introductory article is divided into seven sections to provide the rationale behind why symptoms of psychopathy are needed to explain the causal mechanisms responsible for CSV offending trajectories. We begin first by providing some examples of why it would be beneficial to reconsider some of the existing approaches to measuring and studying psychopathy within the field of criminology. Data from the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study (ISVYOS) is used to help demonstrate that these concerns seem valid. In the remaining sections, we focus on how psychopathy can be better utilized within criminological research. In the second section, we detail discrepancies between psychopathy as a clinical construct and tools used to measure this construct, such as the Psychopathy Checklist1 (PCL). In the third section, the extant literature on psychopathy as a predictor of offending is reviewed, with a specific emphasis on the limitations of existing measurement instruments. In the fourth section, due to the measurement limitations identified, the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathy Personality (CAPP; Cooke, Hart, Logan, & Michie, 2004) is introduced as a conceptual map of psychopathy that has utility as a way forward for measuring psychopathy and identifying the causal mechanisms responsible for CSV offending trajectories. In the fifth section, in light of the rarity of psychopathy and commonality of offending, the rationale behind why it is necessary to limit the scope of the types of offending that psychopathy can explain is further elucidated. Also in this section, we define CSV trajectories to clarify what the psychopathy construct is hypothesized to predict. In the sixth section, although admittedly ambitious, specific symptoms of psychopathy from the CAPP concept map are hypothesized to be able to identify whether an individual will be associated with a chronic trajectory, a serious trajectory, or a violent offending trajectory. In the seventh section, this (tentative) proposed relationship between psychopathy and offending and its alignment with existing developmental life course (DLC) theories is discussed (see Fox et al., this issue for a more complete discussion), with limitations and directions for future research provided.

Due to wariness of the potential misuse or misinterpretation of the importance we give to psychopathy, some specific assertions that are central to the arguments put forth in this manuscript are first clarified:

  1. The assertions made regarding psychopathy are based on our view of psychopathy as a construct, not based on existing measures of psychopathy

  2. Based on information theory, explaining a relatively rare phenomenon requires a greater deal of precision. Chronic, serious, and violent offending are rare phenomena, and psychopathy is precise

  3. Psychopathy is not appropriate as an explanation of general offending. The former is rare and narrow, whereas the latter is typical and broad

  4. Although psychopathy is necessary to explain the causal mechanisms underlying CSV offending trajectories, it is not a sufficient explanation

  5. Psychopathy is a dimensional construct, and it is necessary to treat the construct as such to successfully explain CSV offending trajectories

  6. By causal mechanisms, we refer to the factors responsible for an offender’s disinhibition, destabilization, and motivation to offend (e.g., Wikstrom and Treiber’s (2009) propensity, situational context, and deterrence factors in their situational action theory).

  7. Chronic offend trajectories describe a high rate of offending across the life course

  8. Serious offending trajectories describe persistent involvement in violence, serious property offenses, and drug trafficking across the life course

  9. Violent offending trajectories describe persistent involvement in violence across the life course

  10. Existing measures of psychopathy inadequately represent the construct. Testing assertions made here using an existing psychopathy measure is therefore inappropriate

Concerns Regarding the Measurement of Psychopathy within Criminology

Since Farrington (2005) advocated for greater efforts to integrate psychopathy into explanations of offending, criminologists have been rather productive. No longer is psychopathy research specific to the field of forensic psychology. Through these greater efforts there are some directions for moving criminologists’ contribution to psychopathy research forward. It is perhaps due to the enthusiasm to address Farrington’s initial call that criminologists have focused less on psychopathy as a construct and more on deploying tools used to measure psychopathy. It is also possible that due to this enthusiasm, instead of creating new studies developed with the specific intention of measuring psychopathy, many researchers looked for expedient ways to measure psychopathy within existing studies. This approach has resulted in three limitations of the current body of research on psychopathy and offending produced by the field of criminology: (1) conclusions about the predictive validity of psychopathy without the use of appropriately validated measures of the construct, (2) conclusions about the predictive validity of psychopathy made with an almost sole reliance on self-report measures, and (3) conclusions about the construct based on the use of instruments that seemed to capture participants with low-self control rather than participants characterized by the full range of psychopathy symptoms. We feel that it is important to clarify why these approaches to studying psychopathy should be avoided.

The process involved in validating a measure of psychopathy, at least within the field of forensic psychology, is lengthy. Twenty years after the development of the PCL-R and its derivatives, the PCL: SV and PCL: YV, debate continues regarding the number of factors that best describe the instrument (e.g., Cooke & Michie, 2001; Cooke, Michie, Hart, & Clark, 2004; Cooke, Michie, & Skeem, 2007; Hare & Neumann, 2005; Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Neumann, Kosson, Forth, & Hare, 2006; Vitacco, Neumann, Caldwell, Leistico, & van Rybroek, 2006), whether antisocial behavior should be included as one of these factors (e.g., Hare & Neumann, 2010; Skeem & Cooke, 2010), and whether the full range of interpersonal and affective symptoms of psychopathy are captured by this instrument (e.g., Cooke et al., 2004; Dawson et al., 2012; Sandvik et al., 2012). Likely in part due to the absence of studies within criminology designed specifically to measure psychopathy, efforts to measure the construct have not been as intensive in this field. Of specific concern is that, in some studies, psychopathy has been measured ex post facto, where items from pre-existing instruments designed to measure other constructs are selected to measure psychopathy because of their resemblance to items from other instruments measuring psychopathy. Here, factor structure has been assumed because of adequate Cronbach’s alpha values rather than through factor analyses. Convergent and discriminant validity assessments that were critical to development of measures such as the PCL-R were also not performed. In effect, validation efforts from the field of forensic psychology have not been matched within some studies in criminology.

Another limitation of studies on psychopathy within criminology is the almost sole reliance on self-report measures, which do have some advantages, but also a large number of reliability and validity concerns (Hare, 1985; Harpur et al., 1989; Hart & Cook, 2012; Lilienfeld & Fowler, 2006). Reliability concerns are largely an issue of method-mode mismatch, meaning that the self-report measures are inadequate given the nature of psychopathy. For example, given persistent lying is considered an important symptom of psychopathy (Cleckley, 1941), the risk of inaccuracy within self-report instruments may be highest among the types of individuals researchers are most interested in understanding. Even if an instrument includes a measure of social desirability bias, such scales are not designed to capture subtle forms of manipulation that are most likely to be found among individuals with symptoms of psychopathy (Lilienfeld & Fowler, 2006). As further evidence of the method-mode mismatch, self-report instruments are typically completed within an hour and therefore risk being influenced by the subject’s mood state. On the other hand, expert rating scales often involve multiple interviews with the subject (Dawson et al., 2012) and also rely on file-based information to cover a broader range of the subject’s personality over the life course.

Although the expediency of self-report instruments is often viewed as a strength (e.g., Lilienfeld & Fowler, 2006), there is a trade-off between economy and accuracy. Expert rating scales rely on file reviews and interviews with the subject (e.g., the PCL instruments) and allow for the measurement of inter-rater reliability to assess whether the construct is being measured accurately. The latter evaluation method is especially likely to be more accurate due to the inclusion of both subject and collateral informant information. Collateral information is particularly important because those with psychopathy typically show a more serious lack of insight compared to non-psychopaths (Lilienfeld & Fowler, 2006). Unlike self-report instruments that require respondents to answer a specific set of questions with a specific response format, expert rating scales are based on semi-structured interviews that allow the interviewer to re-phrase questions that the offender may have misunderstood or avoided answering directly. The ability to clarify answers when assessing psychopathy is particularly important because individuals with psychopathy are more likely to misunderstand questions addressing affective deficits due to the concept of semantic aphasia (Lilienfeld & Fowler, 2006).

In terms of validity concerns, Hart and Cook (2012) noted that most self-report instruments are not designed to measure psychopathy specifically and thus do not typically capture the full range of symptoms. Hart and Cook also noted that, unlike expert rating scales, self-report instruments are known to have only low to moderate temporal stability and low to moderate concurrent validity with other measures of psychopathy. With regard to concurrent validity, self-report instruments appear most limited with respect to capturing interpersonal and affective deficits (e.g., Hare, 1985; Harpur et al., 1989; Sellbom, 2011). Most critically for criminological theories, these instruments have not shown good predictive validity regarding involvement in serious antisocial behavior (Hart & Cook, 2012). Very importantly, the contrast made between self-report and expert rating scales does not meant to suggest that current expert rating scales are without limitations; the key validity concerns of PCL instruments are discussed in the sections to follow.

The third limitation and most consistent concern is that nearly all existing studies on psychopathy in criminology have utilized general population samples2. This research design strategy is understandable given that the most influential criminological longitudinal studies have focused on the development of offending more broadly and, therefore, emphasize generalizability. However, studying the influence of psychopathy within general population samples where, typically, there is little variance in symptoms of this disorder poses several challenges, even when psychopathy is viewed as a dimensional construct. For example, in the MacArthur Violence Risk Study, 50% of the sample scored either a zero or one on the PCL: SV (Neumann & Hare, 2008). It is also important to consider the construct validity issue that scores on an instrument designed to measure psychopathy do not necessarily reflect symptoms of psychopathy. For example, an individual with a drug addiction may have a parasitic orientation, may be irresponsible, and may engage in reckless behavior. These can all be symptoms of psychopathy, but they also may be symptoms of their drug addiction, and there is certainly no evidence that drug addiction is caused by psychopathy. Nevertheless, this drug addicted individual in a community sample would likely score higher on the PCL: SV than at least 50% of participants from the MacArthur Violence Risk Study.

The extremely low mean score on measures of psychopathy in community studies are especially concerning when affective and interpersonal scores are not reported. It leads to the question of whether higher scores on the instrument simply reflect higher levels of low self-control (e.g., the Lifestyle domain from PCL instruments). For example, despite scores of 16-18 indicating ‘high’ scores on the PCL: SV, only 8% of men from the Cambridge study3 scored ten or higher (Piquero et al., 2012). To what extent are core interpersonal and affective symptoms represented within this group? In a more recent study, Auty, Farrington, and Coid (2015) reported that men from the Cambridge study averaged a score of 1.17 (out of 12) on F1 (the interpersonal/affective facet) of the PCL: SV. Even more importantly, scores on this facet ranged from 0-8, indicating that none of the sample presented with the full range of interpersonal and affective symptoms described by this instrument. Average scores on F2 (lifestyle/behavioral facet), although also low, were twice as high. This suggests that within community samples, the individuals identified as scoring ‘high’ on symptoms of psychopathy (e.g., ‘10’ on the PCL: SV in the Piquero et al., 2012 study) may be more reflective of their F2 scores than by the core symptoms of psychopathy driven by F1.

To assess the validity concern, we used PCL: SV scores from individuals (n = 203) from the ISVYOS to examine whether individuals with PCL: SV4 scores that represented the typical ‘high’ score were more likely to have achieved that score due to higher scores on items reflecting lifestyle and behavioral PCL: SV items (F2) compared to individuals with atypical ‘high’ scores. Based on PCL: SV scores from community data, the vast majority of individuals defined as scoring ‘high’ on the PCL: SV received scores ranging between 10-14 (see Neumann & Hare, 2008; Piquero et al., 2012). We defined individuals with scores on the PCL: SV between 10 and 14 as indicative of the ‘typical’ high scorer and individuals with a score of 15 or greater as indicative of the ‘atypical’ high score. Chi-square measures of association indicated that individuals with typically high PCL: SV scores (n = 64) were significantly (χ2 = 5.81, p < .05) more likely than those with atypically high PCL: SV scores (n = 108) to have an F2 (lifestyle/behavioral) score that was equal to or greater than their F1 (affective/interpersonal) score (see Figure 2). This indicated that individuals with a score that would typically indicate ‘high symptoms of psychopathy’ in a community study would be more likely than individuals with atypically high scores to have their high score driven by items reflecting behavioral impulsivity than by interpersonal and affective deficits. To illustrate this concern in another way, the percent of an individual’s total score that was accounted for by F2 was examined. Using independent samples t-tests, individuals with typically high scores on the PCL: SV had a significantly (t (1075) = 3.52, p < .01) higher percentage of their total score accounted for by F2 compared to individuals scoring atypically high on the PCL: SV (see Figure 2).

--Insert Figure 2 about Here--

When PCL: SV scores are more appropriately treated as dimensional to reflect the dimensionality of psychopathy, similar results are observed. A Pearson correlation was performed on the full sample (n = 203) to examine the correlation between PCL: SV total scores and percent of score accounted for by F2. A significant, moderate, and negative correlation was observed (r = -.470, p < .001). As scores on the PCL: SV decreased, the percent of the total score accounted for by F2 increased. In effect, what may be the basis for these higher psychopathy scores is not core interpersonal and affective symptoms, but measures of criminal behavior, behavioral problems, and impulsivity. Conclusions about the predictive validity of psychopathy may instead be more accurately interpreted as the predictive validity of low self-control and prior behavioral problems/criminality. Thus, our concern is that participants in community studies that are purported to typify ‘high psychopathy’ are individuals whose symptom profile is more likely to reflect lifestyle and behavioral problems that are more reflective of issues with low self control than of psychopathy.

This does not imply that community-based studies should not attempt to measure psychopathy and study its predictive validity. We agree with Sellbom’s (2011) assertion that moving the field of psychopathy research forward requires replication within different samples. However, the assessment of psychopathy in community studies raises fundamental validity concerns, which can only be fully assessed with larger-scale community studies incorporate the full range of symptoms of psychopathy and with measurement tools that allow for an assessment of the core affective and interpersonal symptoms. For advancing the incorporation of psychopathy into criminological theories, we encourage that greater attention should be given to: (a) ensuring that the psychopathy construct be more fully measured before assessing its predictive validity, (b) that the Comprehensive Assessment of Psychopathic Personality (CAPP) is an appropriate map that provides a theoretically and more appropriately comprehensive conceptual outline of psychopathy to guide future measurement, (c) that future research strategies need to account for the rarity of high symptoms of psychopathy in the general population, and d) that psychopathy as an exploratory construct in criminological theories be focused on a narrower scope of the most serious or criminal behaviors. We reflect on these themes in the following sections, beginning with psychopathy as a contentious personality construct and the extent to which existing measures are successful in operationalizing this construct’s complex and multi-domain symptoms.

Revisiting the measurement of psychopathy and its overlap with historical and clinical descriptions

Although the general and non-clinical construct of psychopathy appears to have an extraordinarily lengthy history dating back to classical Greece and Biblical periods, evident usually in literature and philosophy regarding the nature of evil, it has a relatively recent and somewhat contentious history as a clinical construct. It was not until near the mid-twentieth century that Cleckley (1941) fully specified the sixteen traits that have been the basis of contemporary psychopathy measurement instruments, initially Hare’s (1980) classic original PCL. There are a number of other measures of psychopathy (see Salekin & Lynam, 2010), but because of the perception of the PCL instruments as the ‘gold standard’ measurement tools (Edens, Skeem, Cruise, & Cauffman, 2001) with high degrees of reliability and validity (Hart & Cook, 2012), showing that even the strongest measurement tools depart substantially from the clinical description of the construct is the best way to illustrate the need for new and more comprehensive measurement tools.

There are several explanations for the departure between clinical descriptions of the construct and existing measurement tools. Cleckley’s description of psychopathy evolved from his work with a clinical sample, and resulted in the specification of callous, unemotional, and manipulative symptoms as the core features of the construct. In Cleckley’s small clinical sample, only three of 15 individuals presented with belligerence and interpersonal aggressiveness. Most were “successful” psychopaths with professional careers. In effect, only a minority was seriously antisocial (Patrick, 2010). The original few studies, including Lykken’s (1957) study that included a sample of delinquent “psychopaths,” further focused on lowered risk aversion, diminished autonomic reactivity in response to shock cues, and “impaired passive avoidance learning” (e.g., lack of fear regarding punishment). Interestingly, given Farrington’s (2005) advocating for the incorporation of such personality constructs into criminological theories, two preeminent criminologists, McCord and McCord (1964) specified affective coldness, social detachment, and dangerousness and related traits such as “guiltlessness” and “lovelessness” as central to this construct over asocial and elevated impulsive behavioral traits (Patrick, 2010). These pioneers emphasized the relationship between emotional coldness on the one hand and predatory and vicious violent behaviors on the other.

In contrast to these initial descriptions of the construct, contemporary measures of psychopathy have focused less on the relationship between symptoms and serious offending and more on offending as a symptom of the construct. Hare’s focus was on adult incarcerated offenders, which seemed to influence the apparent emphasis of antisocial, particularly criminal, behaviors as symptoms of psychopathy rather than outcomes (Hare, 2003; Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989)6. Similarly, from a contemporary developmental criminology perspective, early developmentalists such as Robins (1978) linked early onset and persistent antisociality as a precursor to adult “sociopaths.”Her perspective apparently was instrumental in specifying the centrality of the serious delinquent and criminal developmental pattern in defining antisocial personality disorder (APD) in DSM III (1980) and DSM IV (2000).

Subsequently, psychopathy in various versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), including the most recent DSM-V, has been subsumed under antisocial personality disorder (APD). In effect, Cleckley’s description of psychopathy was considered by the appropriate DSM committees to not be sufficiently distinctive clinically compared to the behavioral-focused assessment of APD. This behavioral-based measurement of APD has remained within the DSM despite considerable empirical research that suggested that (a) the prevalence of DSM-based criteria for APD among incarcerated populations was so high that it was relatively unhelpful for differentiating offenders on the basis of risk and as a tool for determining intervention/treatment needs and (b) a lower than expected overlap between offenders with APD as well as PPD (Harpur et al., 1989; Hart & Hare, 1989; Skilling, Harris, Rice, & Quinsey, 2002).

For this reason, Hare’s PCL-R and related instruments that provided measures of interpersonal and affective symptoms excluded from the DSM criteria for APD diagnoses moved to the forefront of research on the psychopathy construct. By the 1990s psychopathy and the “gold standard” PCL-R had become widely utilized in criminal justice settings, primarily in the United States as a risk assessment tool for recidivism and, more particularly, for dangerousness or violence. However, towards the start of the 21st century, several researchers from the field of clinical and forensic psychology were concerned that, although the various PCL instruments as well as self-report measures influenced by the PCL-R (e.g., the Youth Psychopathy Traits Inventory; Andershed, Kerr, Stattin, & Levander, 2002) better captured interpersonal and affective deficits relative to DSM criteria, two issues persisted. First, Cooke, Hart, Logan, and Michie (2004) questioned whether the PCL fully captured the range of symptoms associated with psychopathy as a personality disorder. Second, others argued that the PCL instruments were over-reliant on behavioral problems and specific antisocial acts that should instead be considered outcomes, not symptoms, of psychopathy (Cooke, Michie, & Skeem, 2007; Skeem & Cooke, 2010; Dawson, McCuish, Hart, & Corrado, 2012). In effect, this group of researchers suggested that research regarding psychopathy was faced with an issue of operationalism, where the PCL was being equated as psychopathy, rather than as a measure of psychopathy (e.g., Cooke et al., 2007), which has lead to confusing the ‘map’ (i.e., the PCL) with the ‘terrain’ (i.e., psychopathy). Addressing this confusion is necessary to resolve whether psychopathy is simply low-self control re-packaged (Walters, 2004), and doing so requires addressing the basic criticisms of PCL instruments. The CAPP conceptual map of psychopathy appears to be suited for this purpose because as it aligns with traditional models of personality traits rather than behavioral indicators (Corrado, 2012) and because when the CAPP has been used to guide measurement, core affective features seemed to be better captured compared to the PCL-R (Sandvik et al., 2012).

Current state of the research on psychopathy and offending

Although research has shown support for various measures of psychopathy, especially the PCL, as strong predictors of a wealth of offending outcomes (Corrado, Vincent, Hart, & Cohen, 2004; DeLisi, Angton et al, in press; DeLisi, Peters et al., 2014; Dyck et al., 2013; Gretton et al., 2004; Flexon & Meldrum, 2013; Hare, 1996; Hare, 2001; Kennealy, Skeem, Walters, & Camp, 2010; McCuish et al., 2014; Piquero et al., 2012; Ribeiro da Silva, Rijo, & Salekin, 2012; Salekin, 2008; Schmidt, Campbell, & Houlding, 2011; Vachon et al., 2012; Vaughn & DeLisi, 2008; Vaughn, Howard, & DeLisi, 2008; Vincent, Odgers, McCormick, & Corrado, 2008), one key validity concern has been that the above findings typically identified the criminal indicators of the antisocial factor of the PCL as the strongest predictors of various measures of criminality. That the best predictor of future criminal behavior is prior criminal behavior should not come as a surprise. However, this suggests a problem with measurement rather than a problem with the construct. ‘Offending predicting offending’ does not help explain the origins of this behavior, nor does it explain why an offender was involved in a specific crime at a specific time. For example, what destabilized the offender, why did they become disinhibited, and why were they motivated to offend? It is important to unpack the ‘black box’ to explain the causal mechanisms underlying offending.

More importantly, another key validity concern within these studies was the lack of evidence that interpersonal and affective symptoms, thought to be at the core of the psychopathy construct, were predictive of future offending outcomes, especially with studies of female subjects (see Vincent et al., 2008). Indeed, at the case-study level core affective and interpersonal symptoms, in the absence of extreme behavioral impulsivity, have been viewed as primary for certain dominant explanations for extremely violent, sexual, and homicidal offenses (Chan, Myers, & Heide, 2010; Dawson et al., 2012; Myers, Chan, Vo, & Lazarou, 2010). Taken together, these two validity concerns could be construed as evidence against the utility of psychopathy as causal mechanisms for offending. Walters (2004), for example, suggested that the abovementioned findings were possibly simply reflecting the ability of the PCL and other instruments to capture low self-control and that perhaps psychopathy was not as helpful a construct for criminology theories as originally anticipated. Specifically, what little psychopathy may have to offer as a key causal mechanism appeared to already be captured by existing criminological constructs, namely low self-control from Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime.

A rival plausible explanation for the apparently limited utility of psychopathy as an explanation of even CSV offending trajectories (see Corrado et al., this issue, McCuish et al., 2014; McCuish et al., this issue; Piquero et al., 2012) is that researchers have relied predominantly on using PCL instruments to examine the predictive validity of psychopathy. This over-reliance on one instrument potentially suggests that the limited evidence for interpersonal and affective symptoms as predictive of offending outcomes is due to the inadequacy of psychopathy measurement, rather than the inadequacy of the psychopathy construct. Broadly, there are two concerns with existing measurement tools. One concern is the overreliance on behavioral items to measure psychopathy. A second concern is the lack of the full range of interpersonal and affective symptoms considered by personality theorists to be at the core of the psychopathy construct. This assertion leads back to Cooke et al.’s (2012) caution to avoid conflating the map with the terrain. Moving the value of psychopathy to criminology forward requires first looking back at the clinical description of psychopathy and steering away from narrower instruments when making assertions regarding how psychopathy symptoms relate to CSV offending trajectories. Certainly, given the hypothesized complexity of offending trajectories combined with the limited range of PCL instruments (i.e., they include a maximum of only 20 items), understanding how psychopathy, a construct that seems to be described by a rather limited range of indicators, is useful as in specifying the causal mechanisms for such offending pattern is unclear. We believe the shorter expert rating scale measurement instruments are simplifications of an inherently complex personality construct and, therefore, are inadequate for advancing criminological theories of serious and extreme crimes. Given that theory building is what we hope to stimulate, it is necessary to deconstruct possible perceptions that the full psychopathy construct is accounted for by existing measurement tools. The CAPP conceptual map of psychopathy is presented in the next section.

Introducing the CAPP description of psychopathy to guide theoretical development

The intended key purpose for the CAPP was to be a conceptual model of psychopathy rather than simply a measurement tool. As a conceptual model, the CAPP has heuristic value for understanding the range of symptoms associated with psychopathy and how these symptoms can be used to understand and hypothesize the key causal mechanisms for chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories. Specifically, the CAPP describes a broader number of symptoms not included in a variety of standard psychopathy measurement tools, which can help explain the heterogeneity characterizing serious offender trajectories. Very importantly for criminological theories, Cooke et al. (2004) developed the CAPP with the intention of re-focusing the measurement of psychopathy on core standard personality symptoms rather than on measures reflecting antisocial behavior in particular criminal behavior. However, the CAPP authors acknowledge that the CAPP necessarily is psychopathy, but they do assert that the CAPP domain and related symptom over-inclusiveness ensured that it was more likely that the CAPP included a description of symptoms irrelevant to psychopathy rather than excluded relevant symptoms (Cooke et al., 2012). It therefore seemed appropriate to develop a psychopathy-based specification of the causal mechanisms of CSV offending trajectories guided directly by symptoms included in the CAPP.

Six philosophical principles guided the development of the CAPP as a conceptual map of psychopathy (see Cooke et al., 2012). First, the authors of the CAPP believed that symptoms of psychopathy should reflect personal as opposed to social or cultural deviance. Second, the symptoms of psychopathy were defined broadly as to require assessors to delve into inherently complex features of personality. Third, symptoms of psychopathy were encoded in natural language and thus developed the CAPP conceptual map was developed using a clinically derived lexical approach. Fourth, manifestations of symptoms may change over time, and the description of these symptoms needed to have the flexibility to account for different manifestations. Fifth, symptoms of psychopathy included lower-order symptoms that clustered in theoretically meaningful ways. Sixth, especially at this initial stage of the CAPP development, over-inclusion of symptoms rather than exclusion of symptoms in their conceptual model enhanced the ability to assess its construct validity. This would also allow for its potential incorporation into theories in a variety of disciplines, including criminology.

With these guiding six principles, the CAPP conceptual map of psychopathy was developed, consisting of 33 symptoms associated with six higher-order factors. These six higher-order factors, referred to as domains, were named Attachment, Behavior, Cognitive, Dominance, Emotion, and Self (see Cooke et al., 2004, 2012 for a fuller description of the symptoms and domains). These domains are purely conceptual and not meant to imply that the psychopathy construct is comprised of six ‘factors.’7Prototypicality studies examining the validity of the CAPP generally support all 33 symptoms as important to the psychopathy construct (Cooke, Hart, Cohen, & Michie, 2012; Hoff, Rypdal, Mykletum, & Cooke, 2012; Kreis & Cooke, 2011). The 33 symptoms and their adjectival descriptors as distributed throughout the six domains are outlined in Table 1. Again, we believe that the breadth of these symptoms combined with the theoretical perspective that psychopathy is a dimensional construct better facilitates the identification of specific symptom profiles to be specified as predictors of different offending trajectories. It is important to acknowledge, though, that not all chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories can be explained by individuals that meet a certain scoring criteria. For example, a ‘30’ on the PCL: YV would run contrary to the principle of equifinality. This is true regardless of the psychopathy instrument utilized. Instead, our proposed CAPP perspective of psychopathy is that a broad number of symptoms, and different clusters of symptoms, most fully explains the heterogeneity of CSV offending trajectories.

--Insert Table 1 about Here--

Psychopathy and its intended scope in explanations of offending

General antisocial behavior is too prevalent (e.g., Le Blanc & Fréchette, 1989; Moffitt, 1993) and psychopathy too rare (Skeem & Mulvey, 2001) for the latter construct to contribute to well-established explanations of general deviancy and related ubiquitous minor crimes (see Walters, 2004). In contrast, offending trajectories that persist across the life course consist of much smaller groups of individuals from within the population of general offenders. By focusing on CSV offending trajectories, the scope of the group of offenders that psychopathy is hypothesized as being necessary to explain is quite limited yet consistent with our concerns about the discrepancies in the prevalence of symptoms of psychopathy in general population samples versus their prevalence in offending samples.

Explaining why relatively few individuals persist in offending across the life course has indeed been a long-standing focus of criminological theories and research (e.g., DeLisi, 2005; Nagin & Land, 1993; Moffitt, 1993; Tracy, Wolfgang, & Figlio, 1990; Wolfgang et al., 1972). A greater challenge has been identifying the covariates sufficient to account for offending trajectories limited to adolescence and those evidence from childhood that continue throughout adulthood stages (Blokland, Nagin, & Nieuwbeerta, 2005; Day et al., 2012; Fergusson, Horwood, & Nagin, 2000; Landsheer & van Dijkum, 2005; Nagin, Farrington, & Moffitt, 2005; Odgers et al., 2008; van der Geest, Blokland, & Bijleveld, 2009; van Domburgh, Vermeiren, Blokland, & Doreleijers, 2009; Ward et al., 2010). The related major theme of this article is that symptoms of psychopathy can be employed to account for these different offending trajectories (see also Corrado et al., this issue; McCuish et al., 2014; McCuish et al., this issue) is that symptoms of psychopathy can be used to account for these different offending trajectories.

Our assertion that psychopathy is suitable for the explanation of these trajectories that also are controversial themes in criminal justice in many countries including Canada and the United States is not a novel assertion. For instance, DeLisi and Vaughn (2008) argued that the relationship between psychopathy and crime variables may be strongest when examining serious and violent offenders. Historically, they traced comparisons between the prevalence of psychopathy and the prevalence of Wolfgang’s chronic offenders in one of the original and classic cohort studies, and called for more research connecting these two groups across the life course. Similarly, from a policy perspective, McCuish et al. (2014) suggested that while some of the more dynamic factors commonly indicative of recidivism (e.g., school problems, substance use, peer delinquency) are more amenable to treatment, they are more likely to have a dissipating effect on offending over time given general age-related declines. The asserted relative stability of psychopathy, in contrast, suggests that an individual with high psychopathy symptoms will be at a continued risk to offend, including more serious offenses, throughout the life course. This theory and policy related analysis perspective requires prospective longitudinal research that utilizes more than simple measures of recidivism, which alone exclude important parameters of criminal careers and, therefore, cannot accurately identify the heterogeneous and heterotypical chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories. Again, the intended scope of this tentative explication of the role of psychopathy in the development of offending necessarily focuses more narrowly on chronic, serious, and violent (CSV) offending trajectories.

By trajectories, we are referring to Nagin’s (2005) description of a trajectory as a quantitative pattern of offending over time that captures important criminal career parameters such as onset, persistence, and desistance. Trajectories can therefore be used to explain the evolution of crime across the life course (Nagin, 2005; Nagin & Tremblay, 2005). Specification of the symptoms of psychopathy acting as causal mechanisms of CSV offending trajectories is only useful if these CSV trajectories can be identified in statistical models that facilitate the testing of psychopathy as a predictor of different trajectories. We believe that the evidence presented in this journal (Corrado et al., this issue; McCuish et al., this issue) and elsewhere (e.g., Jennings & Reingle, 2012; Piquero, 2008) provide tentative empirical support for the assertion that although offending is best described by a continuous distribution, this distribution can be approximated by discrete categories (trajectories) of offenders that may reflect distinct etiologies (Nagin, 2005). CSV offending trajectories represent three of these discrete categories, and symptoms of psychopathy represent the etiological factor responsible for the specific course of offending behavior.

Chronic offending trajectories describe involvement in a high-rate and versatile pattern of offending that persists across the life course (at least until full adulthood). This trajectory pattern has been identified in virtually all trajectory studies, regardless of sample type (Jennings & Reingle, 2012; Piquero, 2008). A less chronic but more serious offending trajectory (determined by the ratio of time spent in custody to number of convictions) was observed by Corrado et al. (this issue). Finally, McCuish et al. (this issue) identified a trajectory of offenders involved predominantly (but not exclusively) in acts of violence.

Most importantly, although evidence has been presented indicating that higher scores on measures of psychopathy were related to each of the CSV trajectories (Corrado et al., this issue; McCuish et al., 2014; McCuish et al., this issue; Piquero et al., 2012), the Lifestyle and Antisocial dimensions of psychopathy, according to the PCL, were primarily responsible for these relationships. This finding is in line with Walters’ (2004) concern that psychopathy has relatively little utility as a theoretical construct because its core affective and interpersonal symptoms rarely contributed to explaining variance in offending outcomes above the contribution made by symptoms analogous to low self-control. However, in the next section, we consider whether these issues are due to the limited theoretical value of psychopathy, or whether psychopathy simply has been inadequately captured by existing measurement tools.

Specifying the Hypothesized Causal Mechanisms Linking Psychopathy Profile Symptoms and Offending Trajectories

The theoretical assertions in this section link symptoms of psychopathy to different offending patterns, which putatively also appear to have distinctive developmental origins and patterns. Specifically, it will be argued that certain clusters of personality traits asserted to be symptoms of psychopathy can be used to explain the development of chronic offending, another symptom cluster can explain the development of serious forms of general offenses (i.e., both violent and non-violent), and another psychopathy symptom cluster can explain the development of violent offending. There are several reasons why conceptualizing psychopathy as a categorical construct is insufficient when specifying symptoms that explain CSV trajectories. First, cut score criteria are largely arbitrary (e.g., cut score discrepancies on the PCL-R between North America and Europe), and risk including individuals who are not ‘psychopathic,’ or excluding individuals who are ‘psychopathic.’ Relying on a dichotomous measure, therefore, increases the risks of false positives and false negative in the prediction of offending trajectories (Iselin, Galluci, & DeCoster, 2013). Second, and related to the first point, the DSM-V as well as more recent studies using advanced analytic techniques (e.g., Edens, Marcus, Lilienfeld, & Poythress, 2006; Haslam, Holland, & Kuppens, 2012; Murrie et al., 2007; Strickland, Drislane, Lucy, Krueger, & Patrick, 2013; Walters, Duncan, & Mitchell-Perez, 2007) support the assertion that psychopathy is dimensional rather than categorical. Third, there is a long-standing belief that there are different symptom clusters underlying the broader psychopathy construct (e.g., Dawson et al., 2012; Karpman, 1941, 1948; Porter, 1996; Skeem, Johansson, Andershed, Keer, & Louden, 2007). A dichotomous measure of psychopath/non-psychopath ignores potential symptom heterogeneity within the former group. These different variants/subtypes, such as primary versus secondary psychopathy, are possibly related to why some offenders are involved in chronic trajectories involving general offending (e.g., the secondary variant), whereas other offenders are involved in violence and/or serious offending that although less frequent, nonetheless continues across the life course (e.g., the primary variant). It, therefore, is not necessary to score ‘high’ on all CAPP psychopathy domains, especially given that these domains are only conceptual (i.e. until further studies establish the validity of the six domains, they remain tentative, theoretically). Ultimately, as hypothesized, it is expected that different symptoms from particular domains likely will be identified that distinguish distinctive patterns of CAPP domains central to the explanation of the development of particular trajectories.

The Chronic Offending Trajectory

The chronic offending trajectory consists of a high rate of less serious offenses (e.g., property offenses, violating conditions of court orders, minor assaults), and likely requires a risky/opportunistic lifestyle that provides the consistent offending opportunities similar to Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) classic relationship between low self-control and offending. This routine pattern of offending opportunities typically requires relatively little skill, planning, and effort to facilitate a chronic criminal career. Certain symptoms of psychopathy will not only influence chronic offending, but also the likelihood of a particular lifestyle exposing the offender to the opportunities required for involvement in a chronic criminal career. Specifically, symptoms described by the Behavioral and Cognitive domains of the CAPP (see Table 1) will likely create opportunities/environments to offend as well as the causal mechanisms that influence the offender to act upon these opportunities. Individuals with a number of behavioral symptoms can be characterized as impulsive, disruptive, aggressive, unreliable, restless, and lacking perseverance. These individuals will also have a number of cognitive symptoms including an intolerance towards and suspicion of others, as well as a lack of concentration and planfulness and an inflexible thinking pattern.

The behavioral and cognitive symptoms likely will influence the offender’s lifestyle in various ways. Behaviorally, unreliable and disruptive individuals who are restless and lack perseverance are described in the CAPP (see Table 1) as individuals who also are idle, undisciplined, undependable, irresponsible, and untrustworthy and, cognitively, individuals lacking concentration will be distractible, unfocused, and inattentive and their inflexibility implies stubborn, rigid, and uncompromising attitudes. Together, these descriptors of cognitive and behavioral symptoms suggest an individual will be disinterested in school or maintaining employment, freeing up their time to be involved in antisocial activities. Individuals scoring high on this behavioral domain are also rash, sensation seeking, and impetuous, commonly linked to substance abuse (e.g., Forth et al. 2003). A drug-using lifestyle will help create offending opportunities through (a) the pharmacological effects of different substances, (b) the financial needs of the user, and (c) the culture of violence associated with the drug market (Goldstein, 1985). In the absence of involvement in conventional activities (e.g., school and work) to occupy time and address financial needs combined with involvement in substance use and other risky activities, individuals scoring high on the behavioral and cognitive domains are likely to be frequently exposed to offending opportunities.

Behavioral and cognitive symptoms will also be primarily responsible for the likelihood that an offender will attempt to capitalize on these opportunities. Behaviorally, individuals scoring high on this domain of the CAPP are reckless, restless, and aggressive. These symptoms describe an individual who is rash and risk-taking, energetic and overactive, and violent, threatening, and bullying. Individuals scoring high on the Cognitive domain are intolerant (e.g., narrow-minded, hypercritical, bigoted) and suspicious (e.g., distrustful, hypervigilant) of others. Together, these two domains of symptoms describe an offender highly likely to react to offending opportunities due to behavioral symptoms similar to low self-control (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) and a willingness to harm others due to their cognitive perceptions of others as potential threats or deserving of victimization. Very importantly, high scores on the Attachment, Dominance, Emotion, and Self domains are not necessary for involvement in a chronic offending trajectory. However, certain symptoms within these different domains may be more likely to co-occur with the abovementioned behavioral and cognitive symptoms. An inflexible attitude may relate to an individual who is self-justifying and self-entitled. These symptoms from the Self domain may explain why desistance from offending is unlikely. The offender that shows no remorse for their behavior (Emotion domain) may also serve as a barrier to desistance.

The Serious Offending Trajectory

A different cluster of symptoms is hypothesized to explain involvement in the serious offending trajectory. This trajectory describes individuals who commit both violent and non-violent offenses of a serious nature at a consistent rate across the life course. Primarily because of their tendency to commit more serious offenses, these offenders will spend more time in custody, reducing opportunities to offend (see Corrado et al., this issue). As such, the frequency of offending for this group is lower than for the chronic offending trajectory. For these persistently serious offenders, their symptoms of psychopathy are not seen as compelling them specifically to offend (e.g., offending is not an automatic or extremely high predictable outcome). Instead, these offenders are characterized by a strong imperative to exert interpersonal dominance over others. Involvement in serious offenses represents one outlet for satiating this deeply embedded motive. Symptoms from the Dominance and Self domains are hypothesized to be most prominent for individuals best described by this trajectory. High scores on the Self domain explain why individuals commit crimes against others. These individuals are self-centered, self-entitled, self-aggrandizing, and self-justifying. They also have a sense of uniqueness and sense of invulnerability. Together, these symptoms provide a major part of the motivation for these serious offenders. In addition, high scores on the Dominance domain can assist in understanding the process of how serious violent and non-violent offenses occur through an orientation towards antagonizing, domineering, and manipulating others as well as insincerity and deceitfulness during interpersonal interactions.

Because the Behavioral domain does not play a central role in the involvement of individuals in serious offenses within this trajectory, these individuals do not engage in a high rate of offending characteristic of the chronic offending trajectory. Yet, the behavioral symptoms do constitute a barrier to accessing non-criminal outlets for the desire to interpersonally dominate others. High scores on the Behavioral as well as the Cognitive domains suggest impulsivity, recklessness, and a lack of planfulness and concentration that likely affect their capability of using non-criminal means to find ways to interpersonally dominate others.

The Violent Offending Trajectory

The CAPP domain symptoms hypothesized for the third and final trajectory, persistent violence across the life course, has been described in detail by McCuish et al. (this issue). This trajectory describes individuals who commit a high rate of violent offenses in proportion to their total offenses. Violent offending that persists across the life course requires a personality profile dominated by a lack of attachment to others combined with the absence of emotional depth and unstable emotions. McCuish et al. (this issue) used Wikström and Treiber’s (2009) situational action theory to specify the different symptoms that would (a) increase an individual’s propensity for violence, (b) create an environment around the offender conducive to violence, and (c) reduce the likelihood that the offender would be deterred from involvement in violence. Propensity for violence is hypothesized to be primarily influenced by higher scores on the Behavioral domain, while the situational context is hypothesized to be primarily influenced by the Dominance domain, and finally, the lack of deterrence by the Attachment and Emotional domains. The Attachment and Emotion domains are hypothesized to be particularly related to involvement in persistent violence as opposed to the other two trajectories because this trajectory is most likely to involve direct contact with victims. These latter two domains, especially the Attachment domain, are associated with a lack of caring for others, disloyalty and detachment from the needs of others, including (and especially) those whom the individual should have an attachment to (e.g., family, friends, spouse/partner). These emotional and attachment deficits have long been hypothesized to be associated specifically with violent behavior (Hare, 1981; Harpur & Hare, 1994; Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 1991; Hart & Dempster, 1997; Weiler & Widom, 1996; Yablonsky, 1970), but are not fully captured by instruments such as the PCL. Indeed, the Attachment and Emotion domains correlate highly with the Affective factor from the PCL-R, but cover a much wider range of symptoms (Sandvik et al., 2012). Those offenders falling towards the highest end of this spectrum range are those whom we assert will be associated with a criminal career characterized by persistent violence.

Beyond the above example of associating the CAPP domain symptoms with Wikström and Treiber’s (2009) situational action theory, it is assumed that incorporating this measure of psychopathy into the explanation of the these three trajectories and possibly others requires the enormously complex and challenging challenge of placing this key personality construct in the context of the numerous developmental other risk and protective factors identified within the developmental life course (DLC) theoretical perspective. Clearly this challenge is beyond the scope of this introductory article, but, nonetheless, it is important to at least begin this discussion.

Alignment with existing theory, theoretical limitations, and directions for future research

With few exceptions, both traditional and modern theories/developmental models of crime (Agnew, 1992; Akers, Krohn, Lanza-Kaduce, & Radosevich, 1979; Farrington, 2005; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Moffitt, 1993; Sampson & Laub, 2005; Thornberry, 2005) generally have not made reference to personality constructs commonly discussed in forensic psychology (for exceptions see DeLisi & Vaughn, 2014; Vaughn & DeLisi, 2008; Fox, Jennings, & Farrington, this issue). In addition to lack of disciplinary crossover within criminological theories, there appears to be a preference for parsimony and the use of simple and essentially one-dimensional explanatory criminological constructs compared to complex, multidimensional, and multi-indicator constructs common in the personality based theoretical framework. This parsimony concern is especially amplified when only one dimension of these multidimensional constructs seems helpful in explaining the development of offending.8 The general theory of crime, for example, exemplifies this theme given that it is based fundamentally on one psychopathy-like symptom—low self-control—to account for offending.

Fox and colleagues (this issue) illustrated the versatility of psychopathy in terms of the ease in which it can be integrated into core developmental life course theories. Along with the breadth of symptoms that comprise the construct, psychopathy may be necessary to the explanation of offending. However, we caution against the use of psychopathy as a theory of general offending and instead suggest that symptoms of psychopathy can be used as a theory of CSV offending trajectories. For example, basic criminal acts such as theft can denote several character traits about the actor (or in this example, the thief). One who steals is self-centered, indifferent, and callous in the sense that he or she does not consider the financial effect of the loss on the victim, and how the victimization affects the victim emotionally. However, it would be imprecise to suggest that one who commits theft is psychopathic even if the traits described here—self-centered, indifferent, and callous—are components of the disorder. Conversely, when conceptualizing offenders who repeatedly and purposely inflict grievous violence (e.g., homicide, rape, kidnapping, and the like) and who also are self-centered, indifferent, and callous, psychopathy is a better match and seems to more appropriately typify the offender’s nature.

Limitations of a CAPP-centered approach to the explanation of CSV trajectories

Prominent forensic psychologists such as Monahan and Steadman (1996, 2001) cautioned that it was unrealistic to expect that the use of personality constructs in childhood or adolescent stages were accurate predictors of serious antisocial outcomes in adulthood stages. Primarily, it was not clear, and remains unclear, whether symptoms measured by the CAPP will remain present over time, and thus remain proximal to offending, or whether symptoms will dissipate over time and thus become distal to offending. This stability concern is especially related to the measurement of symptoms of psychopathy across the childhood and adolescent development stages. We hope that the current issue inspires broader usage of the CAPP especially in longitudinal designs to examine empirically whether this potential limitation comes to light.

Directions for Future Research

Another distinctive theoretical advantage of the CAPP is that facilitates the variability of psychopathy related to comorbidity in incorporating this personality construct into DLC theories. As mentioned above, a key assumption is that there are likely theoretically specifiable patterns of symptoms that delineate the distinctive pathways to CSV trajectories. While categorical and usually clinical subtypes such as primary and secondary psychopaths have been utilized, for the DLC perspective, the focus is on the domain symptom profiles primarily because this facilitates the identification of more distinctive profiles that possibly can more fully distinguish the categorical types according to traditional models of personality (e.g., the five factor model). As mentioned, the focus originally in criminological theories has been on childhood disorders (mainly ODD, CD, and, most recently, disregulated explosive disorder, see DeLisi & Vaughn, this issue). Very importantly, several of the core personality traits of psychopathy as a personality construct such as callous-unemotional, irresponsible, manipulative, and impulsive have been associated with not only developmental neurological disorders including CD, ASD, FASD, ADHD, bi-polar disorder, and psychosis (see Sevecke & Kosson, 2010). Conversely, several internalizing disorders, primarily depressive, have been negatively associated with psychopathic traits while multiple substance disorder relationships were inconsistently related. Whether these different comorbid disorders impact the development of offending trajectories should be examined.


Given the more recent interest within criminology regarding the influence of psychopathy on offending, it seemed appropriate to take stock of what has been done, why improvements can be made, and how these improvements can be made. To recognize the value of psychopathy, the construct needs to be applied correctly. Given psychopathy is a relatively rare disorder and offending is more common, it seems necessary to narrow the scope of offending. Although this will limit generalizability, it is better to be more accurate about the types of offenders that can be explained by their symptoms of psychopathy than to mischaracterize a broad group of offenders (see Figure 1). Studies of both community and offender-based populations are needed. Ideally, new longitudinal studies will emerge that sample from both groups. Whenever possible, accuracy should receive greater emphasis than expediency. This means a preference for expert rating scales over self-report instruments. Existing expert rating scales (e.g., the PCL instruments) still have two serious limitations, an over-reliance on behavioral items and an absence of the full range of interpersonal and affective symptoms. The CAPP conceptual map of psychopathy can help criminologists to identify a broader range of symptoms that can be used to elucidate the causal mechanisms that destabilize, disinhibit, and motivate the offender. The CAPP also includes an expert rating scale to guide measurement of the construct. Very importantly, although psychopathy is necessary for the explanation of CSV offending trajectories, it is not sufficient.


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Tables and Figures

Table 1. CAPP Domains, Symptoms, and Associated Adjectival Descriptors


Adjectival Descriptor

Symptom Characteristics





Remote, Distant, Cold

Emotionally disconnected from others


Unfaithful, Undevoted, Disloyal

Unbound to others


Uncompassionate, Cruel, Callous

Unable to emotionally understand others


Inconsiderate, Thoughtless, Neglectful

Lacking warmth or affection towards others




Lacks Perseverance

Idle, Undisciplined, Unconscientious

Lacking persistence, Failing to apply self


Undependable, Untrustworthy, Irresponsible

Unable to be depended upon


Rash, Impetuous, Risk-Taking

No concern for dangerous consequences of actions


Overactive, Fidgety, Energetic

Unable to relax or sit still


Disobedient, Unruly, Unmanageable

Characterized by unrest, troublesome behaviour


Threatening, Violent, Bullying

Acting in a hostile, bold way towards others



Distrustful, Guarded, Hypervigilant

Questioning of others’ intentions

Lacks Concentration

Distractable, Inattentive, Unfocused

Unable to give undivided attention. Issue with internal focus.


Narrow-minded, Bigoted, Hypercritical

Unwilling to hear/accept or lacking respect for different views, practices, opinions, beliefs


Stubborn, Rigid, Uncompromising

Unable/unwilling to move from own course/plan

Lacks Planfulness

Aimless, Unsystematic, Disorganized

Unable to form or stick to a course of action



Hostile, Disagreeable, Contemptuous

Opposing of others


Arrogant, Overbearing, Controlling

Tries to rule/hold power over others


Dishonest, Deceptive, Duplicitous

Misleads, cheats others, acts falsely towards others


Devious, Exploitative, Calculating

Controls/influences others to their own advantage


Superficial, Slick, Evasive

Being fake, not genuine


Glib, Verbose, Pretentious

Talkative, wordy, constant chatter


Lacks Anxiety

Unconcerned, Unworried, Fearless

Does not feel uneasy, tense regarding possible danger/negative events

Lacks Pleasure

Pessimistic, Gloomy, Unenthusiastic

Unable to feel gratified, enjoyment, amusement

Lacks Emotional Depth

Unemotional, Indifferent, Inexpressive

Does not experience strong feelings, unmoved, uninterested, apathetic, flat

Lacks Emotional Stability

Temperamental, Moody, Irritable

Lacks consistency of emotions

Lacks Remorse

Unrepentant, Unapologetic, Unashamed

Failing to feel regret, guilt, shame



Egocentric, Selfish, Self-Absorbed

Concerned only with the self


Self-Important, Conceited, Condescending

Self-promoting, patronizing towards others

Sense of Uniqueness

Sense of Being Extraordinary, Exceptional, Special

Feels that they are one of a kind, that others are not equal to them

Sense of Entitlement

Demanding, Insistent, Sense of Being Deserving

Belief that they are owed special rewards/advantages

Sense of Invulnerability

Sense of Being Invincible, Indestructible, Unbeatable

Belief that they cannot be harmed, damaged, defeated by others


Minimizing, Denying, Blaming

Belief that they are free of blame, their actions were right; absolving self of responsibility

Unstable Self-Concept

Sense of Self is Labile, Incomplete, Chaotic

Attitudes, opinions, and thoughts of self regularly fluctuate/change, are fickle

Figure 1. An illustration of the specificity psychopathy and the similar specificity of chronic, serious, and violent offending trajectories.


Figure 2. Chi-square and t-test analyses indicating that lifestyle and behavioral items are having a stronger influence on typical ‘high’ scores on the PCL: SV compared to atypical ‘high scores’

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