The Relationship Between Attachment and Psychopathy: A Study with a Sample of Violent Offenders

Abstract

This study used a mixed quantitative-qualitative methodology to investigate the relationship between attachment and psychopathy. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare 2003) was administered to 139 Italian offenders who were convicted of violent crimes (murder, rape, child sexual abuse, armed robbery, assault causing bodily harm). First, we explored whether the two PCL-R items theoretically denoting devaluation of attachment bonds (promiscuous sexual behavior and many marital relationships) were able to predict PCL-R total, factor and facet scores. Subsequently, we analyzed the transcripts of the 10 participants who obtained the highest PCL-R scores in the sample, assessing their childhood experiences and their current attachment representations and attachment styles. Results of the analyses showed that the PCL-R items denoting devaluation of attachment bonds were able to predict the PCL-R scores; moreover, most of the participants who obtained the highest PCL-R scores also reported severe abuse during their childhood and showed indicators of disorganized attachment. Findings of the study suggest that the exploration of past and current attachment relationships can be crucial for the understanding of violent behavior.

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Correspondence to Adriano Schimmenti.

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Schimmenti, A., Passanisi, A., Pace, U. et al. The Relationship Between Attachment and Psychopathy: A Study with a Sample of Violent Offenders. Curr Psychol 33, 256–270 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-014-9211-z

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Keywords

  • Psychopathy
  • Attachment
  • Child abuse
  • Criminal behavior
  • Mixed-method