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Psychopathic Traits, Treatment Engagement, and Their Interrelation in Criminal Justice-Involved Boys: A Cross-Sectional Network Analysis


To maximize the benefits of prevention and treatment efforts the psychopathy construct has been extended downward in age. Despite advances in the study of psychopathy in adolescence it remains unknown if adolescents with psychopathic traits engage in treatment. To fill this knowledge gap, the relationship between psychopathy and treatment engagement was scrutinized in 261 criminal justice-involved male adolescents (ages 16–17 years). Psychopathic traits were measured by means of a well-established self-report questionnaire (Youth Psychopathic traits Inventory; YPI), whereas treatment engagement was measured using a self-report questionnaire consisting of readiness to change, bond with staff, collaboration on goals/tasks, and therapeutic engagement dimensions. Network analysis was used to detect the most robust relations between ten YPI subscales or the three YPI components and the four treatment engagement dimensions. Findings indicated that the YPI subscales (e.g., remorselessness) rather than the YPI components (e.g., callous-unemotional) might help to understand the complex relationship between psychopathic traits and treatment engagement. Disaggregating all the dimensions across its subscales can help us to identify which specific feature of psychopathy is related to treatment engagement and should be the first focus of intervention.

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  1. The authors suggested that youth with CU traits might pretend to establish genuine bonds with staff (Simpson et al., 2013) or may especially benefit from the creation of a genuine therapeutic alliance (Mattos et al., 2017), which would explain the positive relation between CU traits and TE dimensions.

  2. For an overview of the items of the YPI, see Supplemental Material 1.

  3. For more information on how this tool was created and for an overview of the different items that tap treatment engagement, see supplemental material S2. Also note that the Readiness to Change and Collaboration on Tasks dimensions include two and one reverse scored items, respectively.

  4. Model fit indices for the four correlated factor model are: Comparative fit index = .90; root mean-square error of approximation = .08; and standardized root mean square = .06. For more details see Table S2 of supplement 2.

  5. This TE-YPI_3 approach is important since research that relied on the YPI predominantly used the three component scores and rarely considered the subscale scores. Also note that the relative small sample size did not allow us to model a network including all 50 items instead of the 10 subscales or the three dimensions (Epskamp et al., 2018).

  6. Our total YPI score corresponds to total scores reported in samples of boys in detention in other countries, e.g. USA (e.g., 109.12; McCuish & Lussier, 2018), Switzerland (112.9; Pihet et al., 2014), Australia (120.8; Shepherd & Strand, 2016); Belgium (102.00; Colins et al., 2012), and the Netherlands (101.68; Aghajani et al., 2016).


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This work was supported by a Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO) Odysseus Grant (FWO.ODY.2019.0001.01). The funding source had no involvement in the preparation of the manuscript nor study design.

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Correspondence to Athina Bisback.

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This study was approved by the ethical committee of the Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences at Ghent University.

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Parents provided passive informed consent and youth actively assent to participate in the program and for research publication before data collection.

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Bisback, A., Reculé, C. & Colins, O.F. Psychopathic Traits, Treatment Engagement, and Their Interrelation in Criminal Justice-Involved Boys: A Cross-Sectional Network Analysis. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 50, 1589–1604 (2022).

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  • Callous-unemotional
  • Network Analysis
  • Offenders
  • Psychopathy
  • Treatment