PSYCHOPATHY FROM A BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE
André Körner1, Susann Bennewitz1, & Michaela Gwenner2
1General Psychology and Biopsychology, Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany
2Saxon Hospital Arnsdorf, Hufelandstr. 15, 01477 Arnsdorf/Dresden, Germany
Psychopathy is an important predictor of criminal behavior and recidivism. Therefore, it
is important to determine those factors contributing to this disorder. Psychopathy is
presumed to be a life-long phenomenon with an early onset, thus necessitating a bio-
psycho-social perspective. Despite some recent attempts to take developmental
perspectives into account (e.g. latent class analysis, Mokros et al., 2015), theoretically
interesting variables in the context of psychopathy are typically analyzed in isolation.
Our goal is to provide a broader perspective of psychopathy by integrating biological,
psychological and social variables.
Biological and genetic factors are crucial in the development of psychopathic traits
(Viding & McCrory, 2012). We assume that two personality traits with strong biological
underpinnings are closely related to psychopathy, i.e., mentalizing ability and sensation
seeking. In addition, early environmental influences such as parental criminality,
neglect, or experiences of violence predict psychopathy (Sevecke, Krischer, Schönberg,
& Lehmkuhl, 2005). From a behavioral perspective, early deviant or delinquent
behavior is also one of the key risk factors (Hare, Clark, Grann, & Thornton, 2000).
Therefore, we investigated the influence of personality traits, environmental risk factors,
and early behavioral components on psychopathy. We tested a structural equation
model, based on data of N = 56 adult offenders from German prisons, forensic
psychiatric hospitals, and probationary services.
The resulting model confirms a two-factorial structure of psychopathy and explains
66% percent of variance in psychopathy. Mentalizing ability, but neither sensation
seeking nor early environmental risks had a significant direct impact on psychopathy.
Furthermore, the results are not mediated by early behavioral problems. We discuss
future directions for research on the life-long influences on psychopathy.
Keywords: psychopathy, mentalizing ability, sensation seeking