Persistently Psychopathic

“The psychopathic offender is among the most prolific, versatile, and violent of offenders.” So comment the authors of a study by scholars at Purdue University, the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University, and King’s College, London. These researchers devote their analysis to the attempt “to discriminate those children with conduct problems who will become chronic offenders, specifically psychopathic offenders, from those whose antisocial behavior will subside over time.” The need to differentiate between these two groups is underscored by reports indicating that “the violence committed by psychopathic offenders tends to be more instrumental and ‘cold-blooded’ than the violence committed by nonpsychopathic offenders.” And the researchers find broken homes as an environment particularly likely to foster long-term psychopathy. Not surprisingly, in their search for predictors of psychopathy among 24-year-old young men, the researchers find clues in data collected through use of a standard psychological survey—specifically, the Childhood Psychopathy Checklist—when these young men were 13-year-olds. Still, in statistical models that account for the effects of background variables, the researchers establish only “moderate stability” in “the relation between adolescent psychopathy and adult psychopathy.” One background variable that emerges as a significant independent predictor of adult psychopathy is family structure. When comparing young men reared in two-parent families with peers reared in other circumstances, the researchers discern a meaningful pattern: “Family structure was significantly related [p<.05] to three of the five scales [for adult psychopathy].” Americans have all too much reason to see in the multiplication of broken homes the threat of ever more Ted Bundys and Richard Specks. (Donald R. Lyman et al., “Longitudinal Evidence That Psychopathy Scores in Early Adolescence Predict Adult Psychopathy,”Jour
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