American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 411–424 | Cite as

Fledgling Psychopathic Features and Pathological Delinquency: New Evidence

  • Matt DeLisi
  • Tamerria Dansby
  • David J. Peters
  • Michael G. Vaughn
  • Jeffrey J. Shook
  • Andy Hochstetler


Fledgling psychopathy is a construct that has proven useful in organizing the nomological network of conduct problems and psychopathology in children and adolescents. Drawing on data from an institutionalized sample of delinquents (n = 252), the current study compared ADHD, CD, and ADHD+CD youth on psychopathic personality features and their association with pathological delinquency. Youths with ADHD+CD were significantly more psychopathic than their peers. Although callousness, unemotionality, and remorselessness are generally theorized to define the fledgling psychopathic youth, ROC-AUC models found that thrillseeking and impulsiveness were the strongest classification variables for delinquency and violent delinquency at the 90th percentiles. Implications for research and practice with antisocial youth are proffered.


Fledgling psychopathy ADHD Psychopathic personality Criminal career Career criminal 


  1. Andershed, H., Kerr, M., Stattin, H., & Levander, S. (2002). Psychopathic traits in non-referred youths: A new assessment tool. In E. Blaauw & L. Sheridan (Eds.), Psychopaths: Current international perspectives (pp. 131–158). The Hague: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, C. T., Frick, P. J., DeShazo, T. M., McCoy, M. G., Elliss, M., & Loney, B. R. (2000). The importance of callous-unemotional traits for extending the concept of psychopathy to children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 335–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blair, R. J. R. (1999). Responsiveness to distress cues in the child with psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blomberg, T. G., Bales, W. D., Mann, K., Piquero, A. R., & Berk, R. A. (2011). Incarceration, education and transition from delinquency. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 355–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brotman, M. A., Schmajuk, M., Rich, B. A., Dickstein, D. P., Guyer, A. E., Costello, E. J., … & Leibenluft, E. (2006). Prevalence, clinical correlates, and longitudinal course of severe mood dysregulation in children. Biological psychiatry, 60(9), 991–997.Google Scholar
  6. Burke, J. D., Loeber, R., & Lahey, B. B. (2007). Adolescent conduct disorder and interpersonal callousness as predictors of psychopathy in young adults. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36, 334–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chauhan, P., Reppucci, N. D., & Burnette, M. L. (2007). Application and impact of the psychopathy label to juveniles. International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 6(1), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Colledge, E., & Blair, R. J. R. (2001). The relationship in children between the inattention and impulsivity component of ADHD and psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 1175–1187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Boer, S. B. B., van Oort, F. V. A., Donker, M. C. H., Verheij, F., & Boon, A. E. (2012). Childhood characteristics of adolescent inpatients with early-onset and adolescence-onset disruptive behavior. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 34, 415–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DeLisi, M. (2005). Career criminals in society. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. DeLisi, M. (2009). Psychopathy is the unified theory of crime. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 7(3), 256–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DeLisi, M. (2013). Pandora’s box: The consequences of low self-control into adulthood. In C. L. Gibson & M. D. Krohn (Eds.), Handbook of life-course criminology: Emerging trends and directions for future research (pp. 261–276). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeLisi, M., Neppl, T. K., Lohman, B. J., Vaughn, M. G., & Shook, J. J. (2013). Early starters: which type of criminal onset matters most for delinquent careers? Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(1), 12–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DeLisi, M., & Piquero, A. R. (2011). New frontiers in criminal careers research, 2000–2011: a state-of-the-art review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(4), 289–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeLisi, M., Vaughn, M., Beaver, K. M., Wexler, J., Barth, A. E., & Fletcher, J. M. (2011). Fledgling psychopathy in the classroom: ADHD subtypes, psychopathy, and reading comprehension in a community sample of adolescents. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 9(1), 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dolan, M. C., & Rennie, C. E. (2007). The relationship between psychopathic traits measured by the Youth Psychopathic trait Inventory and psychopathology in a UK sample of conduct disordered boys. Journal of Adolescence, 30(4), 601–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Donnellan, B. M., Ge, X., & Wenk, E. (2002). Personality characteristics of juvenile offenders: differences in the CPI by age at first arrest and frequency of offending. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(5), 727–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Elliott, D. S., Huizinga, D., & Menard, S. (1989). Multiple problem youth: Delinquency, substance use, and mental health problems. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Farrington, D. P., Loeber, R., Stallings, R., & Homish, D. L. (2008). Early risk factors for young homicide offenders and victims. In M. DeLisi & P. J. Conis (Eds.), Violent offenders: Theory, research, public policy, and practice (pp. 79–96). Sudbury: Jones & Bartlett.Google Scholar
  20. Flexon, J. L., & Meldrum, R. C. (2013). Adolescent psychopathic traits and violent delinquency: additive and nonadditive effects with key criminological variables. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. doi: 10.1177/1541204012470850.Google Scholar
  21. Forth, A. E., & Book, A. S. (2010). Psychopathic traits in children and adolescents: The relationship with antisocial behaviors and aggression. In R. T. Salekin & D. R. Lynam (Eds.), Handbook of child and adolescent psychopathy (pp. 251–283). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Frick, P. J. (1998). Conduct disorders and severe antisocial behavior. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Frick, P. J., Cornell, A. H., Barry, C. T., Bodin, S. D., & Dane, H. E. (2003). Callous-Unemotional traits and conduct problems in the prediction of conduct problem severity, aggression, and self-report of delinquency. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 457–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Frick, P. J., & Nigg, J. T. (2012). Current issues in the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 8, 77–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frick, P. J., Stickle, T. R., Dandreaux, D. M., Farrell, J. M., & Kimonis, E. R. (2005). Callous-unemotional traits in predicting the severity and stability of conduct problems and delinquency. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 471–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Gresham, F. M., Lane, K. L., & Lambros, K. M. (2000). Comorbidity of conduct problems and ADHD: identification of“ Fledgling Psychopaths”. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(2), 83–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hinshaw, S. P. (1987). On the distinction between attentional deficits/hyperactivity and conduct problems/aggression in child psychopathology. Psychological Bulletin, 101(3), 443–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hinshaw, S. P. (1992). Externalizing behavior problems and academic underachievement in childhood and adolescence: causal relationships and underlying mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 127–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jennings, W. G., & Reingle, J. M. (2012). On the number and shape of developmental/life-course violence, aggression, and delinquency trajectories: a state-of-the-art review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(6), 472–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Johansson, P., Kerr, M., & Andershed, H. (2005). Linking adult psychopathy with childhood hyperactivity-impulsivity-attention problems and conduct problems through retrospective self-reports. Journal of Personality Disorders, 19(1), 94–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Jones, S. E., Miller, J. D., & Lynam, D. R. (2011). Personality, antisocial behavior, and aggression: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(4), 329–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lahey, B. B., & Waldman, I. D. (2012). Annual research review: phenotypic and causal structure of conduct disorder in the broader context of prevalent forms of psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 536–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. P. (2000). Young children who commit crime: epidemiology, developmental origins, risk factors, early interventions, and policy implications. Development and Psychopathology, 12(04), 737–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lynam, D. R. (1996). Early identification of chronic offenders: who is the fledgling psychopath? Psychological Bulletin, 120, 209–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lynam, D. R. (1997). Childhood psychopathy: capturing the fledgling psychopath in a nomological net. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 425–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lynam, D. R. (1998). Early identification of the fledgling psychopath: locating the psychopathic child in the current nomenclature. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 209–234.Google Scholar
  38. Maldonado-Molina, M. M., Jennings, W. G., Tobler, A. L., Piquero, A. R., & Canino, G. (2010). Assessing the victim-offender overlap among Puerto Rican youth. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(6), 1191–1201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Metz, C. E., Herman, B. A., & Shen, J.-H. (1998). Maximum likelihood estimation of receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves from continuously-distributed data. Statistics in Medicine, 17, 1033–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: a developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mordre, M., Groholt, B., Kjelsberg, E., Sandstad, B., & Myhre, A. M. (2011). The impact of ADHD and conduct disorder in childhood on adult delinquency: a 30-years follow-up study using official crime records. BMC psychiatry, 11(1), 57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Murrie, D. C., Cornell, D. G., & McCoy, W. K. (2005). Psychopathy, conduct disorder, and stigma: does diagnostic labeling influence juvenile probation officer recommendations? Law and Human Behavior, 29(3), 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pardini, D. A., & Loeber, R. (2007). Interpersonal and affective features of psychopathy in children and adolescents: advancing a developmental perspective introduction to special section. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(3), 269–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Patrick, C. J. (2010). Conceptualizing the psychopathic personality: Disinhibited, bold,… Or just plain mean? In R. T. Salekin & D. R. Lynam (Eds.), Handbook of child & adolescent psychopathy (pp. 15–48). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  45. Pechorro, P., Maroco, J., Poiares, C., & Vieira, R. X. (2013). Validation of the Portuguese Version of the Antisocial Process Screening Device self report with a focus on delinquent behavior and behavior problems. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57, 112–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Reynolds, M. D., Tarter, R. E., Kirisci, L., & Clark, D. B. (2011). Marijuana but not alcohol use during adolescence mediates the association between transmissible risk for substance use disorder and number of lifetime violent offenses. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 218–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ribeiro da Silva, D., Rijo, D., & Salekin, R. T. (2012). Child and adolescent psychopathy: a state-of-the-art reflection on the construct and etiological theories. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(4), 269–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sevecke, K., & Kosson, D. S. (2010). Relationships of child and adolescent psychopathy to other forms of psychopathology. In R. T. Salekin & D. R. Lynam (Eds.), Handbook of child & adolescent psychopathy (pp. 284–316). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  49. Shook, J. J., Vaughn, M., Goodkind, S., & Johnson, H. (2011). An empirical portrait of youthful offenders who sell drugs. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(3), 224–231.Google Scholar
  50. Theobald, D., Farrington, D. P., & Piquero, A. R. (2013). Childhood broken homes and adult violence: an analysis of moderators and mediators. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(1), 44–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Thompson, L. L., Riggs, P. D., Mikulich, S. K., & Crowley, T. J. (1996). Contribution of ADHD symptoms to substance problems and delinquency in conduct-disordered adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24(3), 325–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Trulson, C. R., Caudill, J. W., Haerle, D. R., & DeLisi, M. (2012). Cliqued up: the postincarceration recidivism of young gang-related homicide offenders. Criminal Justice Review, 37, 174–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Trulson, C. R., Haerle, D. R., DeLisi, M., & Marquart, J. W. (2011). Blended sentencing, early release, and recidivism of violent institutionalized delinquents. The Prison Journal, 91, 255–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tuvblad, C., Bezdjian, S., Raine, A., & Baker, L. A. (2013). Psychopathic Personality and Negative Parent-to-Child Affect: A Longitudinal Cross‐lag Twin Study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(5), 331–341.Google Scholar
  55. Ullrich, S., & Marneros, A. (2007). Underlying dimensions of ICD-10 personality disorders: risk factors, childhood antecedents, and adverse outcomes in adulthood. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 18(1), 44–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Van Domburgh, L., Loeber, R., Bezemer, D., Stallings, R., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (2009). Childhood predictors of desistance and level of persistence in offending in early onset offenders. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37(7), 967–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vaughn, M. G., & DeLisi, M. (2008). Were Wolfgang’s chronic offenders psychopaths? On the convergent validity between psychopathy and career criminality. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(1), 33–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vaughn, M. G., DeLisi, M., Gunter, T., Fu, Q., Beaver, K. M., Perron, B. E., & Howard, M. O. (2011). The severe 5%: a latent class analysis of the externalizing behavior spectrum in the United States. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39(1), 75–80.Google Scholar
  59. Vaughn, M. G., Howard, M. O., & DeLisi, M. (2008). Psychopathic personality traits and delinquent careers: an empirical examination. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 31(5), 407–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vaughn, M. G., Litschge, C., DeLisi, M., Beaver, K. M., & McMillen, C. J. (2008). Psychopathic personality features and risks for criminal justice system involvement among emancipating foster youth. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1101–1110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vitacco, M. J., & Vincent, G. M. (2006). Understanding the downward extension of psychopathy to youth: implications for risk assessment and juvenile justice. International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 5(1), 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Waschbusch, D. A. (2002). A meta-analytic examination of comorbid hyperactive-impulsive-attention problems and conduct problems. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 118–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. White, S. F., & Frick, P. J. (2010). Callous-unemotional traits and their importance to causal models of severe antisocial behavior in youth. In R. T. Salekin & D. R. Lynam (Eds.), Handbook of child & adolescent psychopathy (pp. 135–155). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  64. Woodworth, M., & Porter, S. (2002). In cold blood: characteristics of criminal homicides as a function of psychopathy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(3), 436–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matt DeLisi
    • 1
  • Tamerria Dansby
    • 1
  • David J. Peters
    • 1
  • Michael G. Vaughn
    • 2
  • Jeffrey J. Shook
    • 3
  • Andy Hochstetler
    • 1
  1. 1.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA
  3. 3.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations