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Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 929–938 | Cite as

Attachment-Related Mentalization Moderates the Relationship Between Psychopathic Traits and Proactive Aggression in Adolescence

  • Svenja TaubnerEmail author
  • Lars O. White
  • Johannes Zimmermann
  • Peter Fonagy
  • Tobias Nolte
Article

Abstract

The lack of affective responsiveness to others’ mental states – one of the hallmarks of psychopathy – is thought to give rise to increased interpersonal aggression. Recent models of psychopathy highlight deficits in attachment security that may, in turn, impede the development of relating to others in terms of mental states (mentalization). Here, we aimed to assess whether mentalization linked to attachment relationships may serve as a moderator for the relationship between interpersonal aggression and psychopathic traits in an adolescent community sample. Data from 104 males and females with a mean age of 16.4 years were collected on mentalization capacities using the Reflective Functioning Scale on the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI). Psychopathic traits and aggressive behavior were measured via self-report. Deficits in mentalization were significantly associated with both psychopathic traits and proactive aggression. As predicted, mentalization played a moderating role, such that individuals with increased psychopathic tendencies did not display increased proactive aggression when they had higher mentalizing capacities. Effects of mentalization on reactive aggression were fully accounted for by its shared variance with proactive aggression. Psychopathic traits alone only partially explain aggression in adolescence. Mentalization may serve as a protective factor to prevent the emergence of proactive aggression in spite of psychopathic traits and may provide a crucial target for intervention.

Keywords

Mentalization Aggression Adolescence Psychopathy Reflective functioning 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was conducted with the help of funds from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, University of Kassel, International Psychoanalytic Association and German Psychoanalytic Society. We would like to thank Fritz Hasper, Ramon Rodriguez-Sanchez. Marie Lübs and Christian Curth for their efforts during data-collection. In addition, we would like to express our gratitude to cooperating institutions, namely the Victim-Offender-Mediation Bremen (TOA Bremen e.V.), the Association for the Promotion of Accepting Youth-Work, (VaJa e.V.) and the comprehensive schools in Kassel, who granted us access to research participants.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Svenja Taubner
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    Email author
  • Lars O. White
    • 3
  • Johannes Zimmermann
    • 1
  • Peter Fonagy
    • 4
  • Tobias Nolte
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.International Psychoanalytic University BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and PsychosomaticsUniversity of LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  5. 5.Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human SciencesUniversity of KasselKasselGermany

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