Psychopathy is considered one of the most challenging developmental disorders to identify, a mental condition identified by specific interpersonal, affective, and behavioral features. Such hallmarks include superficial charm and grandiosity, callousness and lack of empathy, as well as impulsivity and antisocial behavior. Rhee et al. (2020) conducted research wherein they discussed empathy deficits in toddlerhood as predictors of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) symptoms and psychopathy according to the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy scale in adulthood. Considering the lack of related psychopathy research, this study addresses the linkage between the empathy deficits in the early toddlerhood as the predictor of adulthood psychopathy. With that said, the analyzed research poses the question of early identification of individuals at a higher risk for stable antisocial outcomes and a better understanding of this complex disorder.
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The Summary of the Study
Rhee et al. (2020) make a valuable contribution to the existing literature within the abnormal psychology research by examining whether early empathy deficits can predispose adulthood psychopathy. The study engages 956 individuals from the Colorado Longitudinal Twin Study. The critical framework is based on the hypothesis that antisocial behavior is associated with “active” empathy deficits and that early disregard for others predicts later ASPD symptoms. According to the existing groundwork in the field of psychopathy, the researchers outline two distinct factors regarding measures of psychopathic disorders with a weak to moderate positive correlation.
More specifically, factor 1 is associated with the primary psychopathy, including the interpersonal affective factor and the fearless dominance factor. Factor 2, instead, is called secondary psychopathy, involving the “antisocial deviance factor and the impulsive antisocial factor” (Rhee et al., 2020, p. 2). As such, the main argument of the study entails that early disregard for others is significantly concerned with factor 1 of the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale but not with factor 2. Based on the research findings, the correlation between early disregard for others and psychopathy factor 2 was practically zero after monitoring the shared variance between psychopathy factors 1 and 2. Therefore, Rhee et al. (2020) state that there is a tendency toward adulthood ASPD symptoms and psychopathy factor 1. Moreover, since such propensity can be measured early in development, it might help identify individuals who are at a greater risk for stable antisocial outcomes.
Critical Assessment of the Article
Concerning the examined topic of the study, it is of the increased relevance for future psychopathy research and improved understanding of the psychopathic conditions in adulthood because of four main reasons. The first reason implies that the researchers forecasted more credible results for the observed, which can be explained by the possible rater bias in the evaluation of mother-reported empathy deficits used in the study. The second reason is that the research explored the associations between toddlerhood empathy deficits and adulthood psychopathy (ASPD) symptoms after examining acts of aggression observed during toddlerhood. Such examination helped test the hypothesis that except for the behavioral aggression, empathy deficits predict adulthood psychopathy and ASPD symptoms. The article also concluded that there is a moderate interconnection between disregard for others and aggression.
Another crucial aspect of the following study involves the emphasis on the potential sex differences in the associations and analysis of the role that they have after controlling for sex. This approach was motivated by the considerably higher prevalence of disregard for others, ASPD symptoms, and psychopathy in boys/men than in girls/women. Given the study results, the associations between disregard for others and psychopathy symptoms are peculiar to both boys/men and girls/women, and they are significant after controlling for sex. The final fourth reason that supports the significance of Rhee’s et al. (2020) study is the connection between the childhood/adolescent conduct issues and the association between toddlerhood empathy deficits and adulthood ASPD symptoms. The research explores whether such conduct problems act as intermediaries in terms of toddlerhood empathy deficits and adulthood psychopathy. In addition, the study explores the direct impact that toddlerhood empathy deficits have on adulthood psychopathy and ASPD. The analysis also examines the correlation between adult psychopathy/ASPD and early empathy deficits together with behavioral problems.
Behavioral problems and critical psychopathic disorders have serious implications since the early toddlerhood years and, thus, can be assessed and identified since that period. The study conducted by Rhee et al. (2020) is a valuable input into the psychopathy area that confirmed that empathy deficits identified in toddlerhood predict psychopathy and ASPD symptoms in adulthood. The overall connection between monitored disregard for others and adulthood psychopathy factor 1 was proved considerable, however, with no direct nor indirect significant effects. The information provided by the researchers enables understanding of the association between toddlerhood empathy deficits and adulthood ASPD symptoms that are facilitated by childhood/adolescent behavioral disorders. One of the strongest points of the study implies its multimethod assessment of the concern and disregard for others, including observational data. The evident strengths of the research demonstrate that dealing with the conduct issues early in childhood or adolescence might alleviate the stable extension of interpersonal and affective deficits into adulthood.
Rhee, S. H., Woodward, K., Corley, R. P., Du Pont, A., Friedman, N. P., Hewitt, J. K., Hink, L. K., Robinson, J., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2020). The association between toddlerhood empathy deficits and antisocial personality disorder symptoms and psychopathy in adulthood. Development and Psychopathology, 1–11. Web.
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