Psychopathic Traits in Adolescence: the Importance of Examining Components in Face Processing, Voice Processing, and Emotional Skill

  • Christopher T. A. Gillen
  • Zina Lee
  • Karen L. Salekin
  • Anne-Marie R. Iselin
  • Natalie A. Harrison
  • Abby P. Clark
  • Olivier F. Colins
  • Randall T. Salekin


This study examined relations among interpersonal, affective, and impulsive-irresponsible psychopathic traits, emotional capacities, and recidivism rates in 144 detained adolescents. Emotional skill was conceptualized using a range of constructs, including face and voice processing, emotional intelligence, and self-reported cognitive and affective empathy. In addition, the relation between these concepts and recidivism three years after the initial assessment was examined. Results indicated that interpersonal traits were positively associated with better facial identification of fearful faces, whereas affective traits were associated with worse facial identification of sad and happy faces as well as angry voices. Impulsive-irresponsible traits were associated with reduced emotional intelligence. Differential predictive utility of the three psychopathic traits dimensions was also evidenced. Findings highlight the need to consider the broad concept of psychopathy, but also its underlying dimensions.


Adolescents Callous-unemotional Psychopathy Emotional intelligence Empathy, recidivism 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Christopher T. A. Gillen, Zina Lee, Karen L. Salekin, Anne-Marie R. Iselin, Natalie A. Harrison, Abby P. Clark, Olivier F. Colins, and Randall T. Salekin declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Ali, F., Amorim, I. S., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2009). Empathy deficits and trait emotional intelligence in psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 758–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allemand, M., Steiger, A. E., & Fend, H. A. (2015). Empathy development in adolescence predicts social competencies in adulthood. Journal of Personality, 83, 229–241.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bar-On, R., & Parker, J. D. (2000). EQ-i: YV: BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory: Youth Version Technical Manual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  4. Blair, R. J. R. (1999). Responsiveness to distress cues in the child with psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blair, R. J. R., Mitchell, D. G. V., Richell, R. A., Kelly, S., Leonard, A., Newman, C., & Scott, S. (2002). Turning a deaf ear to fear: Impaired recognition of vocal affect in psychopathic individuals. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 682–686.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Borroni, S., Somma, A., Andershed, H., Maffei, C., & Fossati, A. (2014). Psychopathy dimensions, big five traits, and dispositional aggression in adolescence: Issues of gender consistency. Personality and Individual Differences, 66, 199–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowen, K. L., Morgan, J. E., Moore, S. C., & van Goozen, S. M. (2014). Young offenders’ emotion recognition dysfunction across emotion intensities: Explaining variation using psychopathic traits, conduct disorder and offense severity. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 36, 60–73.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Chabrol, H., van Leeuwen, N., Rodgers, R. F., & Gibbs, J. C. (2011). Relations between self-serving cognitive distortions, psychopathic traits, and antisocial behavior in a non-clinical sample of adolescents. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 887–892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ciucci, E., Baroncelli, A., Golmaryami, F. N., & Frick, P. J. (2015). The emotional correlates to callous–unemotional traits in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 2374–2387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cleckley, H. (1976). The mask of sanity: An attempt to clarify some issues about the so-called psychopathic personality. Mosby: St Louis.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, D., & Strayer, J. (1996). Empathy in conduct-disordered and comparison youth. Developmental Psychology, 32, 988–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Colins, O. F., Fanti, K. A., Larsson, H., & Andershed, H. (2016). Psychopathic traits in early childhood: Further validation of the child problematic traits inventory. Assessment.
  13. Colins, O. F., Damme, L. V., Andershed, H., Fanti, K. A., & DeLisi, M. (2017). Self-reported psychopathic traits and antisocial outcomes in detained girls: A prospective study. Youth violence and juvenile justice, 15, 138–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Colins, O. F., Fanti, A. K., Andershed, H., Mulder, E., Salekin, R. T., Blokland, A., & Vermeiren, R. (2018). Properties of the youth psychopathic traits inventory (YPI) when being completed as part of a clinical protocol for detained youth: A multiethnic examination. Psychological Assessment, 29, 740-753.Google Scholar
  15. Dadds, M. R., Hawes, D. J., Frost, A. J., Vassallo, S., Bunn, P., Hunter, K., & Merz, S. (2009). Learning to ‘talk the talk’: The relationship of psychopathic traits to deficits in empathy across childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50, 599–606.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davis, M. H., & Franzoi, S. L. (1991). Stability and change in adolescent self-consciousness and empathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 25, 70–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis, M. H., Hull, J. G., Young, R. D., & Warren, G. G. (1987). Emotional reactions to dramatic film stimuli: The influence of cognitive and emotional empathy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 126–133.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Del Gaizo, A. L., & Falkenbach, D. M. (2008). Primary and secondary psychopathic traits and their relationship to perception and experience of emotion. Personality and Individual Differences, 45, 206–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eberly-Lewis, M. B., & Coetzee, T. M. (2015). Dimensionality in adolescent prosocial tendencies: Individual differences in serving others versus serving the self. Personality and Individual Differences, 82, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fontaine, N., Barker, E. D., Salekin, R. T., & Viding, E. (2008). Dimensions of psychopathy and their relationships to cognitive functioning in children. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 37, 690–696.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Forth, A. E., & Burke, H. C. (1998). Psychopathy in adolescence: Assessment, violence, and developmental precursors. In D. J. Cooke, A. E. Forth, & R. D. Hare (Eds.), Psychopathy: Theory, research and implications for society (pp. 205–229). Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Forth, A. E., Kosson, D. S., & Hare, R. D. (2003). The Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  24. Frick, P. J., Ray, J. V., Thornton, L. C., & Kahn, R. E. (2014). Annual research review: A developmental psychopathology approach to understanding callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents with serious conduct problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55, 532–548.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Grieve, R., & Panebianco, L. (2013). Assessing the role of aggression, empathy, and self-serving cognitive distortions in trait emotional manipulation. Australian Journal of Psychology, 65, 79–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Habel, U., Kuhn, E., Salloum, J. B., Devos, H., & Schneider, F. (2002). Emotional processing in psychopathic personality. Aggressive Behavior, 28, 394–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hare, R. D. (2003). Manual for the Hare Psychopathy Checklist- Revised (2nd ed.). Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.Google Scholar
  28. Hillege, S., de Ruiter, C., Smits, N., van der Baan, H., & Das, J. (2011). Structural and metric validity of the Dutch translation of psychopathy checklist: Youth version (PCL:YV). The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 10, 346–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnson, M. M., Caron, K. M., Mikolajewski, A. J., Shirtcliff, E. A., Eckel, L. A., & Taylor, J. (2014). Psychopathic traits, empathy, and aggression are differentially related to cortisol awakening response. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 36, 380–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jones, S., Cauffman, E., Miller, J. D., & Mulvey, E. (2006). Investigating different factor structures of the psychopathy checklist: Youth version: Confirmatory factor analytic findings. Psychological Assessment, 18, 33–48.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Kahn, R. E., Ermer, E., Salovey, P., & Kiehl, K. A. (2016). Emotional intelligence and callous–unemotional traits in incarcerated adolescents. Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
  32. Kimonis, E. R., Kennealy, P. J., & Goulter, N. (2016). Does the self-report inventory of callous-unemotional traits predict recidivism? Psychological Assessment, 28, 1616–1624.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Klapwijk, E. T., Aghajani, M., Colins, O. F., Marijnissen, G. M., Popma, A., Lang, N. J., & … Vermeiren, R. M. (2016). Different brain responses during empathy in autism spectrum disorders versus conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57, 737–747.Google Scholar
  34. Kosson, D. S., Cyterski, T. D., Steuerwald, B. L., Neumann, C. S., & Walker-Matthews, S. (2002). The reliability and validity of the psychopathy checklist: Youth version in nonincarcerated males. Psychological Assessment, 14, 97–109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kosson, D. S., Neumann, C. S., Forth, A. E., Salekin, R. T., Hare, R. D., Krischer, M. K., & Sevecke, K. (2013). Factor structure of the hare psychopathy checklist: Youth version (PCL:YV) in adolescent females. Psychological Assessment, 25, 71–83.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Lawrence, K., Campbell, R., & Skuse, D. (2015). Age, gender, and puberty influence the development of facial emotion recognition. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.
  37. Leist, T., & Dadds, M. R. (2009). Adolescents' ability to read different emotional faces relates to their history of maltreatment and type of psychopathology. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 14, 237–250.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Lishner, D. A., Swim, E. R., Hong, P. Y., & Vitacco, M. J. (2011). Psychopathy and ability emotional intelligence: Widespread or limited association among facets? Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 1029–1033.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lishner, D. A., Hong, P. Y., Jiang, L., Vitacco, M. J., & Neumann, C. S. (2015). Psychopathy, narcissism, and borderline personality: A critical test of the affective empathy-impairment hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 257–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lorenz, A., & Newman, J. P. (2002). Deficient response modulation and emotion processing in low-anxious Caucasian psychopathic offenders: Results from a lexical decision task. Emotion, 2, 91–104.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Malterer, M. B., Glass, S. J., & Newman, J. P. (2008). Psychopathy and trait emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 735–745.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63, 503–517.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Mullins-Nelson, J. L., Salekin, R. T., & Leistico, A. R. (2006). Psychopathy, empathy, and perspective-taking ability in a community sample: Implications for the successful psychopathy concept. International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 5, 133–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Newman, J. P. (1998). Psychopathic behavior: An information processing perspective. In D. J. Cooke, A. E. Forth, & R. D. Hare (Eds.), Psychopathy: Theory, research and implications for society (pp. 81–104). Boston: Kluwer academic publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nowicki, S. (2002). Diagnostic analysis of nonverbal Accuracy-2. Unpublished manual.Google Scholar
  46. Nowicki Jr., S., & Duke, M. P. (1994). Individual differences in the nonverbal communication of affect: The diagnostic analysis of nonverbal accuracy scale. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 18, 9–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nowicki Jr., S., & Carton, J. (1992). The measure of emotional intensity from facial expressions. Journal of Social Psychology, 133, 749–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. O’Kearney, R., Salmon, K., Liwag, M., Fortune, C., & Dawel, A. (2016). Emotional abilities in children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD): Impairments in perspective-taking and understanding mixed emotions are associated with high callous–unemotional traits. Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
  49. Oliver, L. D., Neufeld, R. J., Dziobek, I., & Mitchell, D. V. (2016). Distinguishing the relationship between different aspects of empathic responding as a function of psychopathic, autistic, and anxious traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 99, 81–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pardini, D. A., Lochman, J. E., & Frick, P. J. (2003). Callous/unemotional traits and social-cognitive processes in adjudicated youths. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 364–371.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Pihet, S., Etter, S., Schmid, M., & Kimonis, E. R. (2015). Assessing callous-unemotional traits in adolescents: Validity of the inventory of callous-unemotional traits across gender, age, and community/institutionalized status. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 37, 407–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Salekin, R. T. (2016a). Psychopathy in childhood: Toward better informing the DSM-5 and ICD-11 conduct disorder specifiers. Personality Disorders: Theory Research and Treatment, 7, 180–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Salekin, R. T. (2016b). Psychopathy in childhood: Why should we care about grandiose-manipulative and daring-impulsive traits? British Journal of Psychiatry, 209, 189–191.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Salekin, R. T. (2017). Research review: What do we know about psychopathic traits in children? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 1180-1200.Google Scholar
  55. Salekin, R. T., Neumann, C. S., Leistico, A. R., & Zalot, A. A. (2004). Psychopathy and intelligence in a young offender sample: An examination of Cleckley’s hypothesis. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 731–742.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Salekin, R. T., Brannen, D. N., Zalot, A. A., Leistico, A., & Neumann, C. S. (2006). Factor structure of psychopathy in youth: Testing the applicability of the new four-factor model. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33, 135–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Salekin, R. T., Debus, S. A., & Barker, E. D. (2010). Adolescent psychopathy and the five-factor model: Domain and facet analysis. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32, 501–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shepherd, S. M., & Strand, S. (2016). The utility of the psychopathy checklist: Youth version (PCL: YV) and the youth psychopathic trait inventory (YPI)- is it meaningful to measure psychopathy in young offenders? Psychological Assessment, 28, 405–415.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Storey, J. E., Hart, S. D., Cooke, D. J., & Michie, C. (2016). Psychometric properties of the hare psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R) in a representative sample of Canadian federal offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 40, 136–146.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Tsang, S., Schmidt, K. M., Vincent, G. M., Salekin, R. T., Moretti, M. M., & Odgers, C. L. (2015). Assessing psychopathy among justice involved adolescents with the PCL: YV: An item response theory examination across gender. Personality Disorders: Theory Research and Treatment, 6, 22–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., Beaver, K. M., Wexler, J., Barth, A., & Fletcher, J. (2011). Juvenile psychopathic personality traits are associated with poor reading achievement. Psychiatric Quarterly, 82, 177–190.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  62. Wai, M., & Tiliopoulos, N. (2012). The affective and cognitive empathic nature of the dark triad of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 794–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Watts, A. L., Salekin, R. T., Harrison, N., Clark, A., Waldman, I. D., Vitacco, M. J., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2016). Psychopathy: Relations with three conceptions of intelligence. Personality Disorders: Theory Research and Treatment, 7, 269–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. White, B. A. (2014). Who cares when nobody is watching? Psychopathic traits and empathy in prosocial behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 116–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wilkinson, S., Waller, R., & Viding, E. (2016). Practitioner review: Involving young people with callous unemotional traits in treatment - does it work? A systematic review. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57, 552–565.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Wilson, K., Demetrioff, S., & Porter, S. (2008). A pawn by any other name? Social information processing as a function of psychopathic traits. Journal of Personality Research, 42, 1651–1656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wolf, S., & Centifanti, L. M. (2014). Recognition of pain as another deficit in young males with high callous-unemotional traits. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 45, 422–432.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Woodworth, M., & Waschbusch, D. (2008). Emotional processing in children with conduct problems and callous/unemotional traits. Child: Care Health and Development, 34, 234–244.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher T. A. Gillen
    • 1
  • Zina Lee
    • 2
  • Karen L. Salekin
    • 3
  • Anne-Marie R. Iselin
    • 4
  • Natalie A. Harrison
    • 3
  • Abby P. Clark
    • 3
  • Olivier F. Colins
    • 5
    • 6
  • Randall T. Salekin
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeUniversity of the Fraser ValleyAbbotsfordCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyThe University of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenNetherlands
  6. 6.Örebro UniversityÖrebroSweden

Personalised recommendations