Date of Award

8-10-2005

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Degree Program

Psychology

Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Frick, Paul

Second Advisor

Morris, Amanda

Third Advisor

Weems, Carl

Fourth Advisor

Stamps, Leighton

Fifth Advisor

Boxer, Paul

Abstract

There is a growing body of research suggesting that the presence of psychopathic traits, and more specifically, callous-unemotional traits in youth, may constitute a distinct developmental pathway to aggressive behavior. However, ethnic groups are understudied in this literature such that it is unclear whether the correlates of psychopathic traits (i.e., violence, aggression, emotional processing deficits) are equally associated with these traits across different ethnic groups. Also, most theories on the development of psychopathy have provided biologically-based explanations for the cognitive-affective deficits that are considered to be core features of psychopathy. However, research suggests that exposure to adverse contextual environments is also associated with emotional processing deficits and could be important in the etiology of psychopathic traits. The current study examined callous-unemotional traits, emotional processing using the emotional pictures dot-probe task, and exposure to adverse contextual environments (i.e., community violence, abuse) in sixty African American and twenty Caucasian detained boys (n = 80). The results of the current study revealed that aggression, delinquency, and violence were associated with psychopathic traits and this did not differ across ethnic groups. Also, there was an interaction between psychopathic traits and aggression that supported past research and indicated that aggressive youth high on psychopathic traits showed a reduced responsiveness to distressing stimuli but aggressive youth low on psychopathic traits showed an enhanced responsivity to distressing stimuli. The association with contextual factors revealed that exposure to community violence was correlated with both psychopathic traits and emotional response to distress stimuli. There was also an interaction between psychopathic traits and exposure to community violence that was similar to the interaction found between psychopathic traits and aggression. That is, psychopathy was inversely related to emotional responses to distressing stimuli, but only for youth high on exposure to violence. Both of these interactions suggested that there was a group of youth high on callous-unemotional traits that also showed strong emotional responses to distressing stimuli. Analyses indicated that this group of youth experienced greater levels of abuse, consistent with research showing that abused children tend to be hypervigilant to emotional stimuli but may also show deficits in empathy. These findings suggest that there may be multiple developmental pathways to psychopathy and have important implications for how treatment approaches should be uniquely tailored to the needs of youth in each pathway.

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The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

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