Psychopathic personality traits: Heritability and genetic overlap with internalizing and externalizing pathology

Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0344, USA.
Psychological Medicine (Impact Factor: 5.94). 06/2005; 35(5):637-48. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291704004180
Source: PubMed


Little research has examined genetic and environmental contributions to psychopathic personality traits. Additionally, no studies have examined etiological connections between psychopathic traits and the broad psychopathological domains of internalizing (mood and anxiety) and externalizing (antisocial behavior, substance abuse). The current study was designed to fill these gaps in the literature.
Participants were 626 pairs of 17-year-old male and female twins from the community. Psychopathic traits were indexed using scores on the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ). Symptoms of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology were obtained via structured clinical interviews. Structural equation modeling was used to estimate genetic and environmental influences on psychopathic personality traits as well as the degree of genetic overlap between these traits and composites of internalizing and externalizing.
Twin analyses revealed significant genetic influence on distinct psychopathic traits (Fearless Dominance and Impulsive Antisociality). Moreover, Fearless Dominance was associated with reduced genetic risk for internalizing psychopathology, and Impulsive Antisociality was associated with increased genetic risk for externalizing psychopathology.
These results indicate that different psychopathic traits as measured by the MPQ show distinct genetically based relations with broad dimensions of DSM psychopathology.

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    • "In addition, several authors have recognized a distinction between primary psychopathy, characterized by low anxiety and lack of conscience, and secondary psychopathy, associated with negative affect, high anxiety and impulsivity (Blackburn, 1975;Newman et al., 2005a;Skeem et al., 2007). Recent work has shown that these two subtypes are underpinned by different genetic and environmental factors (Blonigen et al., 2005;Hicks et al., 2012); in particular, secondary psychopathy is highly associated with environmental risk factors (Skeem et al., 2003). This background suggests that the acquisition of psychopathic traits in carriers of low-activity MAOA alleles may result from social learning: in other terms, while these variants lead to a greater propensity for reactive aggression, the repeated engagement in violent acts (if associated with perceived advantages) may in turn facilitate the development of instrumental antisocial behaviors . "
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    • "We have previously reported, for example, that psychopathy is associated with reduced microstructural integrity of the uncinate fasciculus (). The finding of a strong genetic influence on this tract is consistent with studies that show psychopathic personality (Viding et al., 2005; Blonigen et al., 2005), childhood aggression and adult crime to be highly heritable (Moffitt, 1993), and reported difficulties in ameliorating core emotional personality deficiencies associated with this disorder by psychotherapy (Lee 1999 ). Future longitudinal studies of the uncinate fasciculus are needed to assess the contribution of genes and environment over time, and their interaction with maturational processes. "
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