Early Temperamental and Psychophysiological Precursors of Adult
Andrea L. Glenn and Adrian Raine
University of Southern California
Peter H. Venables
University of York
Sarnoff A. Mednick
University of Southern California
Emerging research on psychopathy in children and adolescents raises the question of whether indicators,
such as temperament or psychophysiology, exist very early in life in those with a psychopathic-like
personality in adulthood. This study tests the hypothesis that individuals who are more psychopathic in
adulthood would be less fearful and inhibited and more stimulation seeking/sociable at age 3 and that
they would also show reduced age 3 skin-conductance (SC) responsivity. In a community sample of 335
3-year-olds, behavioral measures of temperament were taken and electrodermal activity was recorded in
response to both orienting and aversive tones. R. D. Hare’s (1985) Self-Report Psychopathy scale
(SRP-II) was administered at follow-up at age 28. Individuals scoring higher on the measure were
significantly less fearful and inhibited, were more sociable, and displayed longer SC half-recovery times
to aversive stimuli compared with controls at age 3. Contrary to predictions, they also showed increased
autonomic arousal and SC orienting. Findings appear to be the first to suggest that a prospective link may
exist between temperament and psychophysiology in very young children and psychopathic personality
Keywords: psychopathy, childhood, temperament, skin conductance, arousal
Despite decades of research on adult psychopathy, very little is
known about the early antecedents of this disorder. Recent re-
search has begun to identify psychopathic personality in children
and adolescents (Frick, O’Brien, Wooton, & McBurnett, 1994;
Lynam, 1997), raising the question of whether precursors to psy-
chopathy may exist very early in life. Adults who are psychopathic
have been hypothesized as having unique temperaments and psy-
chophysiological characteristics (Frick, 1998; Hare, 1978). A gap
in the psychopathy literature is the lack of prospective, longitudi-
nal studies that examine early childhood factors in individuals who
later demonstrate psychopathic personality in adulthood.
The personality of psychopathic adults is characterized by a lack
of fear and inhibition and a tendency toward stimulation seeking
(Hare, 1998). However, there are multiple ways in which these
characteristics may develop. One possibility is that a psychopathic
way of life leads to the disinhibition, stimulation seeking/
sociability, and lack of fear observed in adults who are psycho-
pathic. For example, after experiencing trauma or continuous
psychosocial hardship in adolescence and early adulthood, these
individuals might be less responsive to laboratory stressors. An-
other possibility is that individuals characterized as psychopaths in
adulthood possess qualities of disinhibition, stimulation seeking/
sociability, and lack of fear very early in their lives (and prior to
the onset of their antisocial lifestyle) and are thus predisposed to a
psychopathic personality at a young age. A longitudinal study that
examines the role of early temperament on prospective adult
psychopathic personality would be necessary to help to clarify
whether these risk factors precede adult psychopathic personality.
In addition to this hypothesized temperamental style, psycho-
pathic adults have also been characterized by lower psychophys-
iological arousal and hyporesponsivity to stimuli. An extensive
meta-analysis by Lorber (2004) found psychopathic people to have
lower levels of electrodermal activity at rest. Psychopathy has also
been associated with reduced skin conductance (SC) orienting,
reflecting reduced allocation of attentional resources to external
stimuli (Dawson, Schell, & Filion, 1990). Both Hare (1968) and
Blackburn (1979) have found reduced responding to orienting
stimuli in psychopathic individuals; however, some studies have
failed to replicate this finding (Aniskiewicz, 1979; Raine & Ven-
ables, 1988). It remains unknown whether reduced arousal and
orienting in psychopathic adults is a characteristic developed in
adolescence or adulthood, or whether it may be present and influ-
ential in the first few years of life.
Longer SC half-recovery time is another psychophysiological
characteristic that has been associated with psychopathy. Mednick
(1977) cited three studies prior to 1977 that suggested longer
recovery time in antisocial individuals. One review of studies
Andrea L. Glenn, Adrian Raine, and Sarnoff A. Mednick, Department of
Psychology, University of Southern California; Peter H. Venables, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York, England.
This study was supported by Independent Scientist Awards K02
MH01114 and RO1 AA10206 to Adrian Raine from the National Institutes
of Health and by a grant to Peter H. Venables from the U.K. Medical
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Andrea
L. Glenn, Department of Psychology, SGM 501, University of Southern
California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Abnormal Psychology
2007, Vol. 116, No. 3, 508–518
Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association
0021-843X/07/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0021-843X.116.3.508
conducted since 1977 reported seven studies finding significantly
longer SC half-recovery times in both psychopathic and antisocial
individuals, and one failing to find a significant association (Raine,
1993). Additionally, shorter SC half-recovery time has been iden-
tified as a possible protective factor, as antisocial adolescents who
desisted from adult crime were found to have shorter SC half-
recovery times than both life-course persistent criminals and con-
trols (Raine, Venables, & Williams, 1996). Long SC half-recovery
time has been interpreted by Venables (1975) as representing a
closed stance to environmental stimuli, which would include cues
of future punishment. Despite many studies in the adult literature,
longer SC half-recovery time does not appear to have been exam-
ined as a potential developmental precursor of adult psychopathy.
In an attempt to gain a developmental perspective, recent re-
search has begun to examine whether the same mechanisms that
underlie adult psychopathy may also be present in children and
adolescents with psychopathic-like characteristics. Children with
callous and unemotional traits similar to those seen in primary
psychopathic individuals have been found to demonstrate fearless-
ness (Frick, Lilienfeld, Ellis, Loney, & Silverthorn, 1999) and a
lack of behavioral inhibition (Frick et al., 2003). Several studies
have revealed that juveniles with psychopathic traits demonstrate
similar deficits observed in psychopathic adults, including reduced
responding to distressing stimuli (Kimonis, Frick, Fazekas, &
Loney, 2006), difficulty recognizing sadness and fear (Blair, Col-
ledge, Murray, & Mitchell, 2001), slower reaction times to nega-
tive words (Loney, Frick, Clements, Ellis, & Kerlin, 2003), and
deficits in moral and emotional processing (Blair, 1997). In
preschool-aged children, Fowles, Kochanska, and Murray (2000)
showed that those characterized by fearless and uninhibited tem-
peraments had reduced SC responsivity. To our knowledge, only
two studies thus far have examined the psychophysiological char-
acteristics of specific psychopathic characteristics in juveniles.
Blair (1999) found that 13-year-olds with psychopathic tendencies
showed less SC responding to distress cues and threatening stim-
uli. Moreover, Fung et al. (2005) found that 16-year-olds scoring
high on the Child Psychopathy Scale (Lynam, 1997) showed
reduced anticipatory SC responding to white-noise bursts. These
studies suggest that psychophysiological differences may be linked
to psychopathy in adolescents as well as adults, but no studies
appear to have examined the psychophysiological characteristics
of children who later develop a psychopathic personality.
The present longitudinal study involves a community sample in
which psychophysiology and temperament are first measured at
the relatively early age of 3 years, and psychopathic personality is
assessed 25 years later at age 28 years. It would be predicted that
individuals who scored higher in psychopathy in adulthood would
be characterized as less fearful and inhibited but higher on stim-
ulation seeking/sociability in early childhood. Furthermore, on the
basis of long-standing theoretical perspectives, these individuals
would be predicted to have lower autonomic arousal, reduced
orienting responses, reduced responding to aversive stimuli, and
longer SC half-recovery time. If reduced psychophysiological ac-
tivity similar to that found in adolescents and adults can be
identified in early childhood, then they would advance our under-
standing of the early developmental processes that predispose to
adult psychopathy. Conversely, it is possible that the very early
correlates of psychopathy are different to the pattern of findings
observed later in life in psychopathic adolescents and adults,
suggesting that our current understanding of the etiology of adult
psychopathy might require some revision.
The larger population from which the participants were drawn
consisted of 1,795 children from the island of Mauritius (a country
lying in the Indian Ocean between Africa and India). All children
born in 1969 in the two towns of Vacoas and Quatre Bornes were
recruited into the study when aged 3 years between September
1972 and August 1973. The two towns were chosen to be repre-
sentative of the ethnic distribution of the island. Informed consent
was obtained from the mothers at age 3 and from the participants
at age 28.
From this birth cohort, a sample of 335 participants completed
a self-report measure of psychopathic personality at the age of 28.
To assess the unbiased selection of this group, we conducted
comparisons of the means of those tested and those not tested on
measures of temperament (inhibition, t ? ?0.761, p ? .447,
d ? ?.023; fearfulness, t ? ?0.649, p ? .517, d ? ?.040;
stimulation seeking/sociability, t ? 0.375, p ? .708, d ?
.023), psychophysiology (nonspecific skin conductance responses
[SCRs], t ? ?1.789, p ? .074, d ? ?.113; heart rate,
t ? 0.479, p ? .501, d ? .035; SC level left, t ?
?0.891, p ? .374, d ? .000; SC level right, t ? ?0.043,
p ? .966, d ? ?.056; average orienting amplitude, t ?
0.112, p ? .911, d ? .007; average SC half-recovery time,
t ? 0.909, p ? .087, d ? .138; average amplitude to
aversive stimuli, t ? ?0.837, p ? .300, d ? .047), socio-
economic status at age 3 (t ? ?2.267, p ? .023, d ?
?.147), social adversity at age 3 (t ? 1.901, p ? .057, d ?
.116), and IQ (t  ? 0.642, p ? .521, d ? .044). Only
socioeconomic status was found to be significantly different
(higher in the untested group than in the tested group). This
variable was consequently entered as a covariate to determine
whether it influenced results. Details of the social adversity and IQ
measures are found in Raine, Yaralian, Reynolds, Venables, and
Comparisons of gender and ethnicity revealed that the sample
consisted of more males (61%) than females (39%), and conse-
quently gender was included as a moderator in all analyses. Ethnic
distribution was as follows: Indian 69%, Creole (African origin)
26%, and others (Chinese, English, French, and ethnically uniden-
tified) 5%. Census data for the island as a whole indicated 66%
Indian, 29% Creole, and 5% other, indicating that the study
achieved its goal of sampling an ethnically representative popula-
Age 28 Psychopathy Scale
Hare’s (1985) Self-Report Psychopathy scale (SRP-II), admin-
istered at age 28, is a 60-item self-report version of the Psychop-
athy Checklist—Revised (PCL–R; Hare, 2003). The SRP-II has
the advantage of a close theoretical association with the PCL–R
and is designed to assess the same constructs. In a sample of 100
prison inmates, Hare (1991) found that the SRP-II and the PCL–R
correlate at .54. Furthermore, it has been shown to be a valid
GLENN, RAINE, VENABLES, AND MEDNICK
measure of psychopathy in nonforensic, nonclinical populations
(K. M. Williams & Paulhus, 2004). In a sample of 289 undergrad-
uates, K. M. Williams and Paulhus (2004) found the SRP-II to
correlate .77 with the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI;
Lilienfeld & Andrews, 1996), another well-validated self-report
measure of psychopathy. Lilienfeld and Andrews (1996) found a
.91 correlation between the PPI and the SRP-II. Zagon and Jackson
(1994) found the SRP-II to correlate positively with narcissism,
impulsivity, and dishonesty, and negatively with anxiety and em-
pathy. K. M. Williams and Paulhus (2004) reported that the SRP-II
correlates with narcissism and Machiavellianism and that it cap-
tures the interpersonally dark nature of psychopathic persons. They
also showed that the SRP-II correlates with delinquency even in
nonforensic samples such as undergraduates. Lilienfeld (1999)
also showed that the SRP-II is significantly correlated with the
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory–2 Psychopathy De-
viate subscales. Salekin (2001) also showed that the SRP-II has a
high discriminant validity from other personality disorders. On the
basis of this research, the SRP-II appears to be comparable with
other self-report measures of psychopathy.
Each item on the SRP-II is scored from 1 (strongly disagree) to
7 (strongly agree). High-scoring (n ? 56) and low-scoring (n ?
56) psychopathy groups were created by using a cutoff of one
standard deviation above and below the mean on the SRP-II scale.
The mean and standard deviation of each group is as follows: high
(M ? 244.65, SD ? 10.68), low (M ? 173.61, SD ? 8.87). The
mean for all 335 individuals was 207.62 (SD ? 23.71). To provide
a reference for the scores, the mean SRP-II scores for a group of
community psychopathic persons from the United States as de-
fined by the PCL–R was 223.20 (SD ? 27.90; Raine, 2006), which
is lower than the mean for the high-scoring group in this study. The
community psychopath grouping has been used in several previ-
ously published studies (Ishikawa, Raine, Lencz, Bihrle, &
Lacasse, 2001; Raine et al., 2004, 2003). In the present study, the
high-scoring group was 69% male and 31% female. The low-
scoring group was 46% male and 54% female. Coefficient alpha
for the SRP-II was .85.
Inhibited/disinhibited temperament at age 3.
general inhibited/disinhibited temperament was developed on this
population by Scarpa, Raine, Venables, and Mednick (1995) and
uses ratings based on the criteria described by Kagan, Reznick,
Clarke, Snidman, and Garcia-Coll (1984). Briefly, ratings of the
child’s behavior in the laboratory were made by a trained research
assistant before and during psychophysiological testing on crying
behavior (1 ? no crying to 5 ? cries uncontrollably) and socia-
bility (1 ? friendly, 2 ? unresponsive), and by a trained psychol-
ogist before and during cognitive testing on crying (1 ? no crying
to 5 ? cries uncontrollably), approach–avoidance (1 ? indepen-
dent exploration to 5 ? clings to mother), verbalizations (1 ?
many spontaneous comments to 4 ? extremely reluctant to speak),
ease of relationship with tester (1 ? immediately friendly to 4 ?
fearful), and social involvement with other children (1 ? cooper-
ative play and exchanges to 5 ? solitary, away from others). All
variables were scored in the direction of higher scores, reflecting
more inhibited behavior. An inhibition score was calculated by
averaging the standard scores (i.e., z scores) for these variables,
A measure of
which were chosen to reflect the measures of inhibition used by
Kagan et al. (1984). Complete data at this age were available for
1,793 participants. Item-total correlations ranged from .19 to .61
(M ? 0.43). Coefficient alpha for the scale was .72 (Scarpa et al.,
1995). Only one rater was used to observe the behaviors of the
children at age 3, therefore interrater reliability was unable to be
assessed. The rater, however, was naı ¨ve with respect to any other
variables assessed and to the research hypotheses and, thus, pro-
vided an unbiased report of the behaviors.
Stimulation seeking/sociability and fearfulness–reactivity at age
Two relatively independent factors have been shown to un-
derlie a collection of eight measures taken from the 3-year-old
assessment battery, that is, stimulation seeking/sociability and
fearfulness–reactivity (see Raine, Reynolds, Venables, Mednick,
& Farrington, 1998, for full psychometric details of these two
measures). Briefly, four putative indices of stimulation seeking/
sociability were taken at age 3 years as follows:
1. The child’s exploration away from the mother toward new
toys was assessed in a laboratory room by a research assistant.
Exploratory behavior was rated on a 4-point scale as follows: 1 ?
passive, clings to mother, withdrawn; 2 ? shows interest, exam-
ines toys but stays close to mother; 3 ? leaves mother, mild
independent exploration, comes and goes to mother; 4 ? active
independent exploration. This behavior was rated on four occa-
sions during the entire testing session (soon after arrival, before
psychophysiological testing, between tests, after completion of
tests). Scores for the four ratings were summed to obtain an overall
index of exploration.
2. Extent of verbalizations to the research assistant during cog-
nitive testing was rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from 1 (very
reluctant to speak) to 4 (many spontaneous comments).
3. Friendliness with the research assistant during cognitive test-
ing was rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from 1 (fearful) to 4
4. Active social play with other children during free play in a
sandbox was rated by a research assistant on a 5-point scale,
including ranges of 1 (solitary), 3 (associates with others), and 5
(cooperative relationship with role reciprocity). These four items
intercorrelated from .25 to .68 (M ? 0.43). Item-total correlations
for this scale ranged from .48 to .59 (M ? 0.53). Coefficient alpha
for the scale was .75 (Raine et al., 1998).
Four putative indicators of fearfulness–reactivity were assessed
by a research assistant during psychophysiological testing at age 3
years as follow: (a) crying behavior was assessed on a 5-point
scale, ranging from 1 (no crying) to 5 (uncontrollable crying); (b)
the child’s fearful reaction was rated on a 4-point scale, ranging
from 1 (interested) to 4 (very frightened); (c) unresponsiveness to
the experimenter was rated on a 2-point scale, ranging from 1
(unresponsive) to 2 (friendly); (d) tremor (shaking with fear) was
rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from 1 (little activity) to 4
(tremor). These four items intercorrelated from .48 to .72 (M ?
0.56). Item-total correlations ranged from .57 to .76 (M ? 0.68).
Coefficient alpha for the scale was .84 (Raine et al., 1998). Scores
for stimulation seeking/sociability and fearfulness–reactivity were
calculated by averaging the standard scores (z scores) for the
Confirmatory factor analysis using LISREL 8 (Jo ¨reskog &
So ¨rbom, 1993) established that stimulation seeking/sociability and
fearfulness–reactivity constitute relatively independent tempera-
PRECURSORS OF ADULT PSYCHOPATHIC PERSONALITY
mental factors (see Raine et al., 1998, for full details). The two
factors intercorrelated at a level of .04 and, thus, were largely
orthogonal. Virtually identical findings were obtained for boys and
girls and for Indian and Creole individuals (Raine et al., 1998).
Resting levels at age 3.
recorded by using Beckman silver/silver chloride electrodes
(Beckman Instruments Inc., Richmond, CA), and Cambridge elec-
trode gel (Cambridge Instrument Co. Ltd., Cambridge, England).
A Standard Lead I recording configuration was used, with ECG
amplified by using a Grass type 79 polygraph and a 7P5 pream-
plifier. Resting heart rate was recorded during a 1-min rest period
preceding the orienting paradigm (described in detail by Venables,
1978). Interbeat intervals were measured for the first artifact-free
10 beats in the rest period, and heart rate in beats per minute was
calculated from the average of these 10 interbeat intervals.
Initial SC levels and number of nonspecific SC responses were
measured for 1 min prior to the onset of the first orienting tone (see
below). SC was recorded from bipolar leads on the medial pha-
langes of the first and second fingers of the left hand, using a
constant voltage system (Venables & Christie, 1973). Beckman
miniature Ag/AgCl-type (4 mm in diameter) electrodes were filled
with 0.5% KCl in 2% agar–agar as the electrolyte. The number of
nonspecific SC responses greater than 0.05 ?S occurring during
the 1-min rest was taken as an indicator of electrodermal arousal.
Responsivity to orienting and aversive stimuli.
SC measures and stimuli are given in Venables (1978). Partici-
pants were presented with orienting stimuli that consisted of six
neutral pure tones of 75-dB intensity 1 s in duration followed by
six aversive stimuli of 90-dB intensity 4.5 s in duration. The
stimuli were presented to the participant binaurally through head-
phones while the child was positioned on the mother’s lap. The
amplitude and SC half-recovery time of each response was re-
corded. Average SC half-recovery time to aversive stimuli was
computed based on the averaged SC half-recovery times to the
stimuli on which the participant gave an SC response. SC half-
recovery time to orienting stimuli could not be calculated because
of the more substantial number of participants failing to give
orienting responses from which SC half recovery could be calcu-
lated (Venables, 1978). Interstimulus intervals ranged from 30 s to
45 s, and all stimuli were 1 s in duration. Responses greater than
0.05 ?S occurring within a 1- to 3-s poststimulus window were
The electrocardiogram (ECG) was
Full details of
In all cases, t-test comparisons were two-tailed. Effect sizes
reported are Cohen’s d (Cohen, 1988). Effect sizes of 0.20 are
deemed as small, 0.50 as medium, and 0.80 as large (Cohen,
1988). A 2 (higher/lower psychopathy group) ? 6 (stimulus)
repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance was used to
test the Group ? Stimulus interaction for orienting and aversive
stimuli. Partial eta squared is the effect size used in the analysis of
variance tests and describes the proportion of variance accounted
for. The ability of measures to independently predict group mem-
bership was assessed by using logistic regression and the Wald
chi-square statistic with a classification cutoff of 0.5, and with the
Nagelkerke statistic used for variance estimation. Temperament
and autonomic variables were entered by using a stepwise forward
procedure (Wald chi-square) with an entry probability of .05 and
a removal probability of .10.
The relationship between measures of temperament and psycho-
physiology for the full sample of 1,795 participants at age 3 has
been published previously (Scarpa, Raine, Venables, & Mednick,
1997). Although some measures correlate to a limited extent, they
also may make independent contributions to psychopathy and thus
are evaluated and discussed independently.
Means and standard deviations of temperament and psycho-
physiology measures are listed in Table 1. Those scoring higher on
the psychopathy measure relative to those scoring lower on the
measure at age 28 were less inhibited at age 3, t(109) ? ?2.424,
p ? .017, d ? .46 (see Figure 1). They were also less fearful at age
3, t(109) ? ?2.103, p ? .038, d ? .40. The higher scorers were
nonsignificantly higher on stimulation seeking/sociability,
t(106) ? 1.633, p ? .106, d ? .32. To explore this latter trend
further, we conducted analyses on each of the four components of
stimulation seeking/sociability. The group scoring higher in psy-
chopathy was significantly higher on three of the four components
of stimulation seeking/sociability, with significantly more verbal-
izations, t(109) ? 2.157, p ? .033, d ? .28; social involvement,
t(109) ? 2.052, p ? .043, d ? .41; and friendliness toward the
experimenter, t(109) ? 2.044, p ? .043, d ? .39, but did not
significantly differ on the amount of exploration away from the
mother, t(109) ? ?0.875, p ? .384, d ? .17. As the three
significant components seemed to be most closely related to the
sociability aspect of the scale, these components were combined
into a single index; the higher scoring psychopathy group was
found to be significantly more sociable at age 3, t(109) ? 2.22,
p ? .029, d ? .44. It should be noted that this new sociability
index has not been tested as an independent factor.
more nonspecific SCRs than the lower scorers, t(109) ? 2.167,
p ? .032, d ? .41. The higher scoring psychopathy group did not
differ from the lower scoring group on mean resting heart rate,
t(104) ? ?0.676, p ? .501, or SC levels in the left hand, t(103) ?
0.300, p ? .765, or right hand, t(101) ? 0.237, p ? .813.
A repeated measures multivariate analysis
of variance revealed a significant Group ? Stimulus interaction,
F(1, 86) ? 2.569, p ? .045, ?2? .029 (see Figure 2). Those
scoring higher in psychopathy showed higher amplitudes on the
first orienting trial, t1(109) ? 1.992, p ? .05, d ? .38, but
comparisons were nonsignificant on subsequent trials (p ? .207).
The higher scoring group showed longer
average SC half-recovery time to the 90-db stimuli than the lower
scoring group, t(104) ? 2.278, p ? .025, d ? .53. A 2 (higher/
lower psychopathy group) ? 6 (aversive stimulus) multivariate
repeated measures analysis of amplitudes revealed no main effect
of group, F(1, 86) ? 0.879, p ? .475; and no significant interac-
tion between group and stimulus, F(1, 86) ? 2.303, p ? .133.
During the rest period, the higher scoring group gave
GLENN, RAINE, VENABLES, AND MEDNICK
Correlations for SRP-II scores and temperament and psycho-
physiology measures of the entire sample of 335 participants can
be found in Table 2. Significant positive correlations were found
for measures of amplitude to first orienting response and half-
recovery time to aversive stimuli. Significant negative correlations
were found for measures of inhibition and fearfulness.
Potential Moderating Effects
The comparisons of temperament and autonomic variables were
repeated by using gender and ethnicity as moderators. There was
no significant interaction effect of gender with psychopathy group-
ing for temperament (p ? .298) or psychophysiology (p ? .197).
There was also no interaction effect of ethnicity for temperament
(p ? .126) or psychophysiology (p ? .335). Gender, ethnicity,
socioeconomic status, social adversity, and IQ at age 3 were also
entered as covariates, but results remained significant (Table 3).
The results show that the high-scoring psychopathy group was
characterized by low fearfulness, high sociability, increased non-
specific SC responses, higher amplitude to the first orienting
Comparisons (t tests) Between Higher and Lower Scoring Psychopathy Groups for Temperament and Psychophysiology Measures
High psychopathyLow psychopathy
t dfpdM SDnM SDn
SC level (left)
SC level (right)
All data in boldface type are statistically significant at p ? .05. SCR ? skin conductance response; SC ? skin conductance; Amp ? amplitude.
the higher scoring (n ? 53) and lower scoring (n ? 53) psychopathy groups at age 28.
Mean z scores for measures of fearfulness, stimulation seeking/sociability, and inhibition at age 3 for
PRECURSORS OF ADULT PSYCHOPATHIC PERSONALITY
response, and longer half-recovery time to aversive stimuli. Al-
though inhibition was also significantly lower, it was not included
because of the considerable overlap with fearfulness. To assess
which of these measures independently predicted to group mem-
bership, we entered each on the second step of a logistic regression
after entry of all other variables on the first step (see Table 4).
Results indicated that nonspecific SC responses and sociability did
not predict group membership over and above all other variables.
Fearfulness and the amplitude of the first orienting response in-
creased the percentage of variance explained but were only mar-
ginally significant. Half-recovery time to aversive stimuli was a
significant independent predictor of group membership. Taken
together, the predictors accounted for 21% of the variance in group
This study aimed to explore the possible existence of very early
temperamental and psychophysiological precursors of adult psy-
chopathic personality. Individuals with higher psychopathy scores
in adulthood were significantly less fearful and inhibited at age 3
than those with lower psychopathy scores as adults, and they
scored higher on the sociability component of the stimulation-
seeking measure. Similar to findings in psychopathic adults, the
higher scoring psychopathy group at age 3 had significantly longer
SC half-recovery times to aversive stimuli. Contrary to predic-
tions, however, the higher scoring group demonstrated signifi-
cantly increased arousal, as measured by more nonspecific SCRs,
and increased amplitude (a two-fold increase) to orienting stimuli.
Effect sizes were small to moderate in all cases, with values of .40
for fearfulness, .46 for disinhibition, .44 for sociability, .41 for
nonspecific SCRs, .38 for SC orienting, and .53 for SC half-
recovery time. To our knowledge, this is the first report that
demonstrates a prospective relationship between characteristics of
preschool children and psychopathic-like personality in adulthood.
These prospective longitudinal findings suggest that at least some
biological and temperamental predispositions to psychopathic per-
sonality may be in place at a young age.
The more psychopathic adults were characterized as being no-
ticeably less fearful and inhibited at age 3. Kochanska (1993)
suggested that children’s fearfulness contributes to the develop-
ment of moral emotions such as guilt, shame, and empathy; chil-
dren who are more fearful tend to feel remorse after wrongdoing,
(n ? 53) psychopathy groups at age 28.
Age 3 mean amplitudes to the six orienting stimuli for the higher scoring (n ? 53) and lower scoring
Correlations Between Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (SRP-II)
Scores and Measures of Temperament and Psychophysiology
SC level (left)
SC level (right)
Amplitude to 1st response
Average SC half-recovery
SCR ? skin conductance response; SC ? skin conductance.
All data in boldface type are statistically significant at p ? .05.
GLENN, RAINE, VENABLES, AND MEDNICK
are concerned with consequences related to their actions, and are
generally deterred from future wrongdoings by feelings of discom-
fort compared with nonfearful children. This study provides initial
prospective, longitudinal evidence that young children with low
levels of fearfulness and inhibition are at risk for the subsequent
development of a psychopathic personality in adulthood.
Stimulation seeking/sociability, which is often thought to be
linked to the antisocial behavior features of psychopathy, was
nonsignificantly higher at age 3 in the higher scoring psychopathy
group at age 28 (p ? .11, d ? .32). Statistically significant results
were found for three of the four components of the measure:
verbalizations, friendliness, and active social play. These three
components seem to be most related to the sociability aspect of the
measure, suggesting that being particularly sociable at an early age
may be one component of developing a psychopathic-like person-
ality later in life. Sociability in childhood may translate into traits
such as glibness, superficial charm, conning, and manipulation
observed in psychopathic adults. What remains unresolved is what
other process morphs such positive early sociability into the devi-
ant psychopathic features of glibness and conning.
Consistent with prior studies of individuals with psychopathy
(Lorber, 2004; Raine, 1993), no differences were detected in heart
rate or SCLs between the higher and lower scoring psychopathy
groups. Contrary to predictions however, the higher scoring group
at age 28 demonstrated significantly higher arousal, as measured
by nonspecific SCRs and higher orienting amplitudes at age 3, two
measures that tend to be closely associated (Crider, 1993). These
findings are discrepant with the literature on antisocial and psy-
chopathic behavior in adults. As these findings contradict the
hypotheses, the authors can only speculate about possible inter-
pretations, and replication in future research is recommended. One
potential explanation for these findings is that increased arousal
and orienting may be a factor that distinguishes individuals in this
community sample who have relatively higher levels of psycho-
pathic traits from caught and convicted psychopathic individuals.
This sample may be similar to “successful” psychopathic persons
(Ishikawa et al., 2001), who have been found to demonstrate
heightened autonomic stress reactivity versus “unsuccessful” psy-
chopathic persons who show reduced reactivity in comparison to
controls (Ishikawa et al., 2001). High levels of arousal and orient-
ing are thought to be indicative of more proficient attentional
processing. Individuals at high risk for an antisocial outcome may
be protected from adult antisocial behavior by increased arousal
and orienting or are better able to avoid detection (Raine, Ven-
ables, & Williams, 1995). It should be noted that no data are
available to classify individuals in the higher scoring group as truly
successful psychopaths; the suggestion that these individuals may
be similar to prior work on successful psychopathic persons as
defined by Ishikawa et al. (2001) is based on the fact that they were
living in the community and were not incarcerated, at the time of
testing at age 28.
Increased SC orienting may also reflect better functioning of the
prefrontal cortex, in contrast to deficits in prefrontal functioning
sometimes seen in incarcerated psychopathic persons (LaPierre,
Braun, & Hodgins, 1995; Mitchell, Colledge, Leonard, & Blair,
2002). Prior structural and functional brain imaging research has
shown that SC orienting is related to both prefrontal structure
(Raine, Reynolds, & Sheard, 1991) and frontal functioning (Haz-
lett, Dawson, Buchsbaum, & Nuechterlein, 1993; L. M. Williams
et al., 2000). Good prefrontal functioning may contribute to some
of the more adaptive features of psychopathy, such as glibness,
superficial charm, lying or conning, and the ability to manipulate
others (Hare, 2003). Yang et al. (2005) found that successful
psychopathic persons do not show the reduction in prefrontal gray
volume that unsuccessful psychopathic individuals show. Further-
more, Ishikawa et al. (2001) showed that successful psychopaths
have significantly better executive functioning than both unsuc-
cessful psychopathic persons and controls. Increased orienting in
the group that scored higher in psychopathy could potentially
mean that these individuals lack the impairments in prefrontal
functioning frequently observed in unsuccessful incarcerated psy-
chopathic persons and, thus, may be more skilled at deceiving and
Group Differences on Temperament and Psychophysiological Variables After Controlling for Demographic and Cognitive Factors
Inhibition FearnSCRs Amp. 1st OR Half-recovery
nSCRs ? nonspecific skin conductance responses; Amp. 1st OR ? amplitude to the first orienting response; SES ? socioeconomic status.
Test of Whether Temperament and Psychophysiological
Variables Predict Group Membership
Predictors Wald ?2
% of increase
Amplitude to 1st response
aBeta weights for all variables entered on Step 2 of the logistic regression.
SCRs ? skin conductance responses.
PRECURSORS OF ADULT PSYCHOPATHIC PERSONALITY
manipulating others to avoid negative consequences and detection.
Further, the same pattern of orienting observed in this study
(increased amplitude on the first but not subsequent orienting
stimuli) has also been found in high sensation seekers (Feij,
Orlebeke, Gazendam, & Van Ziulen, 1985; Neary & Zuckerman,
1976; Robinson & Zahn, 1983), who have been found to be
significantly more attentive to novel stimuli (Zuckerman, 1994).
This heightened awareness of environmental cues may be benefi-
cial, especially in situations involving impending punishment.
However, additional research is needed to explore the possible
causes and implications of increased arousal and orienting.
The finding of longer SC half-recovery time in children who
score higher in psychopathy as adults is consistent with the hy-
pothesized association between long-SC half-recovery time and
antisocial behavior (Venables, 1975). In animal studies, long-SC
half-recovery time has been associated with lesions in the amyg-
dala (Pribram & McGuiness, 1975), a region thought to be com-
promised in psychopathic individuals (Blair, 2004; Patrick, 1994).
The amygdala is important in processing cues of threat or harm
(LeDoux, 1995; Morris et al., 1996) and in fear conditioning
(Davis, 2000; Knight, Nguyen, & Bandettini, 2005; Maren, 2001).
Long half-recovery time has also recently been associated with
low levels of harm avoidance (Mardaga, Laloyaux, & Hansenne,
2006), which is conceptualized as reflecting fearfulness of physical
danger (Tellegen, 1982) and has been shown to be negatively
correlated with psychopathy (Benning, Patrick, Hicks, Blonigen,
& Krueger, 2003; Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995). In addi-
tion, individuals with low levels of harm avoidance demonstrated
relatively little amygdala activity in response to irrelevant emo-
tional distractors (Most, Chun, Johnson, & Kiehl, 2006). The
finding of long-SC half-recovery time at age 3 in adults scoring
higher in psychopathy could therefore be an indicator of amygdala
dysfunction at an early age, resulting in a failure to learn to avoid
harm or punishment. Future prospective longitudinal imaging stud-
ies could test this initial hypothesis.
An alternative position that should be considered is that SC
half-recovery time is an artifact. Fowles (1993) has argued that
long-SC half-recovery time simply reflects reduced prior electro-
dermal activity, although Dawson, Schell, and Filion (2000) and
Raine, Venables, and Williams (1996) have argued that this issue
remains unsettled. Venables and Fletcher (1981) argued that it is
still worthwhile to measure SC half-recovery time as an indepen-
dent variable as there is insufficient evidence to consider it redun-
dant. If long-recovery time to aversive stimuli was a function of
reduced prior electrodermal activity, then one would predict re-
duced amplitudes to aversive stimuli in the higher scorers. No such
effects were observed, and indeed the higher scoring psychopathy
group demonstrated nonsignificantly higher amplitudes to the
aversive stimuli. The correlation between the amplitude to aversive
stimuli and half-recovery time was .16 (p ? .013). As such,
although the counterexplanation of Fowles (1993) may ultimately
be correct and would help to resolve discrepant results in the
current study, it cannot easily be invoked in the context of these
The logistic regression indicated that 21% of the variance in
psychopathy grouping could be explained by temperament and
autonomic variables. Conversely, 79% of the variance remains
unaccounted. This clearly illustrates that temperament and auto-
nomic functioning represent only two of the likely multiple early
processes that shape psychopathic personality. In conjunction with
other constructs, however, measures of temperament and psycho-
physiology may ultimately help to elucidate the etiological basis to
psychopathic personality. Half-recovery time was found to predict
psychopathy group membership independent of all other predic-
tors, suggesting that it is not confounded by other temperament and
psychophysiological variables. A relationship between long half-
recovery time and psychopathy has been found in all but one prior
study and is surprisingly robust (Raine, 1993). There was also
more limited evidence that fearfulness and amplitude of the first
orienting response also independently contribute to the prediction
of group membership, suggesting that they too may be factors in
the development of psychopathy and are worthy of further inves-
tigation in longitudinal studies.
An alternative interpretation of the overall results of this study,
which should also be considered, is that the expected precursors of
adult psychopathy do not clearly exist as early as age 3. The
strongest predictor of adult psychopathic traits is SC half-recovery
time: Although this is a characteristic of adult psychopathic indi-
viduals (Hare, 1978), some have expressed reservations about the
interpretation of this correlate (Fowles, 1993). The significant
findings on orienting and arousal contradict some of the most
consistent findings in adult psychopathy, whereas findings on SC
levels were nonsignificant. In addition, temperament findings can
be taken to indicate that the lower scoring group was inhibited and
fearful, rather than the higher scoring group being fearless and
disinhibited (see Figure 1). Budding psychopathic individuals in-
stead may simply be gregarious as children, inconsistent with the
characterization of psychopathic adults as unfriendly. Alterna-
tively, we believe from clinical experience (Cleckley, 1941) that
psychopathic persons frequently present as superficially friendly
and gregarious, not as unfriendly. The contradictory findings of
high arousal and orienting would be consistent with prior findings
on successful psychopathic persons (see above), or alternatively
could be specific to the self-report outcome measure of psychop-
athy, which has limitations; findings more theoretically consistent
with the adult literature could have emerged by using an interview-
based measure of psychopathy. Despite these alternative perspec-
tives, results are the first of their kind and may truly represent
important processes in the development of psychopathy; future
prospective longitudinal research is required to replicate and ex-
tend these preliminary findings before firm conclusions can be
Several limitations of this study should be recognized. Findings
do not inform us of the early antecedents of psychopathy in caught
and convicted offenders; conclusions can only be applied at this
point in time to community samples with psychopathic personality.
Although the self-report measure of psychopathy used correlates
quite highly with the “gold standard” (PCL–R) measure of insti-
tutionalized psychopathy (Hare, 2003), those scoring higher on the
psychopathy measure are not necessarily psychopathic but instead
constitute individuals with a psychopathic personality. Results
should be extended in future studies with a more objective measure
of psychopathy. However, Hare’s SRP-II appears to be a reason-
ably good correlate of psychopathy in noninstitutionalized popu-
lations (Forth, Brown, Hart, & Hare, 1996; Hare, 1991; Paulhus &
Williams, 2002; Zagon & Jackson, 1994). A more stringent study
with appropriate corrections for Type I error would also render
several of the significant effects nonsignificant but at the same
GLENN, RAINE, VENABLES, AND MEDNICK
time would run the risk of Type II errors and misleading null
conclusions, which are particularly serious in initial, preliminary
studies. Finally, no other psychobiological or behavioral measures
were taken at age 28, so we could not determine whether partici-
pants scoring high on the SRP-II display other factors often ob-
served in psychopathic behavior.
The prospective longitudinal design is thought to be a strength
of the study in that it helps to begin the process of establishing the
early developmental precursors of psychopathy, as opposed to the
more common examination of the cross-sectional correlates of this
condition. Furthermore, this study eliminates the problems asso-
ciated with retrospective data and provides relatively unique psy-
chophysiological knowledge of early autonomic functioning that
can never be determined retrospectively.
In conclusion, this study suggests that some indicators of adult
psychopathic personality may originate and be observable very
early in life. Individuals who were higher in psychopathy at age 28
were characterized by a less fearful and inhibited temperament at
age 3, and they were also more sociable. Psychophysiologically,
they showed longer SC half-recovery times, similar to findings in
psychopathic adults. However, contrary to previous SC findings in
psychopathic adults, this group of community individuals showed
increased autonomic arousal and electrodermal orienting. This
raises the possibility that (a) high arousal and orienting may reflect
increased attentional processing, which may serve to protect them
from being caught and convicted, despite their psychopathic per-
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prefrontal functioning, which allows for the more adaptive features
of psychopathy such as the ability to be smooth, engaging, and
manipulative. Findings of this study must be treated as initial and
provisional, but nevertheless they could have implications for
furthering our understanding of the development of psychopathy,
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Received February 22, 2006
Revision received December 22, 2006
Accepted January 12, 2007 ?
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Write to Journals Office, American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington,
PRECURSORS OF ADULT PSYCHOPATHIC PERSONALITY