Social Cognition Deficits and Psychopathic Traits in Young People Seeking Mental Health Treatment

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Antisocial behaviours and psychopathic traits place an individual at risk for criminality, mental illness, substance dependence, and psychosocial dysfunction. Social cognition deficits appear to be associated with psychopathic traits and are believed to contribute to interpersonal dysfunction. Most research investigating the relationship of these traits with social cognition has been conducted either in children or adult forensic settings. We investigated whether psychopathic traits were associated with social cognition in 91 young people presenting for mental healthcare (aged between 15 and 25 years). Participants completed symptom severity measures, neuropsychological tests, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test of social cognition (RMET), and the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD) to assess psychopathic personality traits. Correlation analyses showed poorer social cognition was associated with greater psychopathic traits (r = -.36, p =. 01). Interestingly, social cognition performance predicted unique variance in concurrent psychopathic personality traits above gender, IQ sustained attention, and working memory performance. These findings suggest that social cognitive impairments are associated with psychopathic tendencies in young people presenting for community mental healthcare. Research is needed to establish the directionality of this relationship and to determine whether social cognition training is an effective treatment amongst young people with psychopathic tendencies. © 2013 van Zwieten et al.




van Zwieten, A., Meyer, J., Hermens, D. F., Hickie, I. B., Hawes, D. J., Glozier, N., … Guastella, A. J. (2013). Social Cognition Deficits and Psychopathic Traits in Young People Seeking Mental Health Treatment. PLoS ONE, 8(7).

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