BACKGROUND: Recently, researchers have sought to measure psychopathy-like features among youth in hopes of identifying children who may be progressing toward a particularly destructive form of adult pathology. However, it remains unclear whether psychopathy-like personality features among youth are best conceptualized as dimensional (distributed along a continuum) or taxonic (such that youth with psychopathic personality characteristics are qualitatively distinct from non-psychopathic youth). METHODS: This study applied taxometric analyses (MAMBAC, MAXEIG, and L-Mode) to scores from two primary measures of youth psychopathy features: the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (N = 757) and the self-report Antisocial Process Screening Device (N = 489) among delinquent boys. RESULTS: All analyses supported a dimensional structure, indicating that psychopathy features among youth are best understood as existing along a continuum. CONCLUSIONS: Although youth clearly vary in the degree to which they manifest psychopathy-like personality traits, there is no natural, discrete class of young 'psychopaths.' This finding has implications for developmental theory, treatment, assessment strategies, research, and clinical/forensic practice.
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