Psychopathic features in young incarcerated females

Date03 May 2016
Publication Date03 May 2016
AuthorSusanne Strand,Stefan Luebbers,Stephane M. Shepherd
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology
Psychopathic features in young
incarcerated females
Susanne Strand, Stefan Luebbers and Stephane M. Shepherd
Susanne Strand is based at the
Centre for Forensic Behavioural
Science, Swinburne University
of Technology, Melbourne,
Australia and School of Law,
Psychology and Social Work,
Centre for Criminological and
PsychoSocial Research,
Örebro University, Sweden.
Stefan Luebbers and Stephane
M. Shepherd are both based at
the Centre for Forensic
Behavioural Science,
Swinburne University
of Technology,
Melbourne, Australia.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between psychopathic features as
measured with the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV) and behavioural and emotional
functioning in young female offenders in custody.
Design/methodology/approach This is a quantitative interview study investigating the relationship with
psychopathic traits, measured with the PCL:YV (Forth et al., 2003), and different psychological
characteristics as well as AD/HD, self-harm, and childhood trauma in adolescent offenders across
genders. Data were collected from a sample of 40 female and 40 male adolescents who were incarcerated in
Victoria, Australia.
Findings Results indicatedthat the behavioural subscalesof the PCL:YV were associatedwith externalising
behaviours possibly underpinned by histories of abuse and substantiated child protection incidences.
The presence of AD/HD was strongly associated with affective deficits suggesting that the PCL:YV may
be identifying young females with AD/HD rather than core psychopathic traits. Findings also indicate that
female-specific manifestations of manipulation are likely being misidentified as behavioural phenomena
precluding clinical recognition as a core interpersonal trait. Significant dissimilarities with a young male
comparison groupwere identified and are discussed within.
Research limitations/implications The sample size is very small and the results should be seen as an
indication rather than generalising.
Originality/value Studies on female juvenile offenders is rare and this study adds to the literature on the
construct of psychopathy and its relationship to psychosocial factors as well as associations with AD/HD,
self-harm, and childhood trauma, among incarcerated adolescents.
Keywords Psychopathy, Self-harm, Childhood trauma, AD/HD, Criminal offending, Female juveniles
Paper type Research paper
An individual who is callous, lacking empathy, manipulative, and generally unreliable can be said
to exhibit the core characteristic traits of psychopathy. Cleckley (1988) first codified core
characteristics of psychopathy, which were later operationalized by Hare (1991, 2003) for
measurement and assessment with the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R). The PCL-R factor
structure conceptualised psychopathy within a two-factor model. The first factor assesses
interpersonal and affective deficits (such as manipulation, pathological lying, callousness, and
shallow affect), and is divided into an interpersonal facet (F1) and a deficient affect facet (F2). The
second factor assesses socially deviant lifestyle (impulsivity, poor anger control, parasitic
orientation, and serious criminal behaviour), which can be divided into a behavioural facet (F3)
and an antisocial facet (F4). Alternative conceptualizations of psychopathy have been developed
comprising core psychopathic personality traits minus antisocial and criminal behaviour items;
i.e. the three-factor model (Cooke and Michie, 2001); and bifactorial models which include both
general and grouping factors (see Boduszek et al. (2015). The authors of the three-factor model
Received 5 February 2016
Revised 22 February 2016
Accepted 22 February 2016
This research was funded through
an Australian Research Council
Discovery Project Grant
DOI 10.1108/JCP-02-2016-0004 VOL. 6 NO. 2 2016, pp. 63-75, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829
PAG E 6 3

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