The developmental building blocks of psychopathic traits: Revisiting the role of theory of mind

  • Sharp C
  • Vanwoerden S
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In the context of personality disorder development, theories of typical and atypical development both emphasize social cognition as an important building block for personality development. Prior claims of intact theory of mind (ToM) abilities in psychopathic individuals have relied upon a narrow conception of ToM as equivalent to "cognitive empathy." In this article, the authors make use of a broader conception of ToM comprising top-down and bottom-up processing, as well as the fractionation of ToM in terms of reduced or excessive ToM function, to examine relationships between ToM and psychopathic traits. A total of 342 adolescents (ages 12-17; Mage 15.39; SD = 1.45; 61.5% females) completed the Movie Assessment for Social Cognition (Dziobek, Fleck, Kalbe, et al., 2006) and the Child Eyes Test (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, &c Plumb, 2001) in addition to three measures of psychopathic traits. Results demonstrated unique relations between the affective components of psychopathy (callous-unemotional traits [CU traits]) and impairment in both top-down and bottom-up ToM. In addition, excessive ToM related to affective components of psychopathy, while reduced or no ToM related to behavioral components of psychopathy. In mediational analyses, bottom-up ToM was shown to be necessary for top-town ToM in its relation with CU traits. Taken together, these results from the study lend support to revisiting the link between ToM and psychopathy. © 2014 The Guilford Press

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adolescent
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Development
  • Phenotype
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychopathology
  • Social Behavior
  • Theory of Mind
  • psychology

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  • Carla C.a b Sharp

  • Salome S.b Vanwoerden

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