Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 260–269 | Cite as

The Relationship Between Early Life Events, Parental Attachment, and Psychopathic Tendencies in Adolescent Detainees

  • Erica J. Christian
  • Christine L. Meltzer
  • Linda L. Thede
  • David S. Kosson
Original Article


Despite increasing interest in understanding psychopathic traits in youth, the role of early environmental factors in the development of psychopathic traits is not well understood. No prior studies have directly examined the relationship between early life events and psychopathic traits. We examined links between life events in the first 4 years of life and indices of the core affective and interpersonal components of psychopathy. Additionally, we examined relationships between early life events, psychopathic traits, and attachment to parents among 206 adjudicated adolescents. Results indicated that the total number of early life events was positively correlated with indices of the affective component of psychopathy. Moreover, psychopathic traits moderated the relationship between the number of early life events and later reports of attachment to parents. Findings suggest that early environmental factors could have important implications for the development of psychopathic traits and may impact attachment to parents for youth with psychopathic traits.


Psychopathic traits Life events Attachment Adolescents Environmental factors 



We wish to thank Susan G. Korpai, Rosemarie Gray, Louise Loud, Leonard Young, Michael Fletcher, Robert Cesar, the correctional officers, the adolescents at the Depke Juvenile Justice Complex in Illinois, J. Manley Dodson, and the court counselors of the Juvenile Services Division of Guilford County for their consistent support and cooperation of the research reported here. We also thank the staff of the Greensboro Detention Center and the staff of the Guilford Technical Community College at the Greensboro and High Point campuses for allowing us to interview adolescents and their families there. We thank Melanie Chinchilla, Josh Greco, Hillary Gorin, Sarah Hampton, Kristin Ridder, Cody Schraft, Rachel Tercek, Sarah VanMoffaert, and Lindsay Allen Whitman, for assessing participants in Illinois and Susan Baird, Deborah Carraway, Susan Dedmon, Jennifer Kelly, Leslie Loudermilk, Christine McBrien, and Julie Smith for assessing participants in North Carolina.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erica J. Christian
    • 1
  • Christine L. Meltzer
    • 1
  • Linda L. Thede
    • 2
  • David S. Kosson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyRosalind Franklin University of Medicine and ScienceNorth ChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Thede Family Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental DisordersColorado SpringsUSA

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