New research published in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology investigates the relationship between psychopathic traits and parental practices and how they are affected by conduct problems. Three types of psychopathic traits were found to have unique relationships with parental practices, even after considering conduct problems. The study can help families and clinicians understand how parenting and child and adolescent psychopathology intersect.
Conduct problems refer to a range of behavioral issues or difficulties that children and adolescents may display. These problems typically involve acting out, aggressive behavior, rule-breaking, and difficulties in following social norms and rules.
Psychopathic traits, on the other hand, refer to a set of negative personality characteristics that include a lack of empathy, callousness, manipulative behavior, and impulsiveness. While psychopathy is often associated with adults, studies have shown that it can also be present in children and adolescents. Psychopathic traits in childhood and adolescence are typically divided into three dimensions: callous-unemotional, grandiose-deceitful, and impulsivity-need for stimulation.
Research suggests that negative parental practices can contribute to the development of psychopathic traits in children. But previous research has also shown that some parental practices may be a response to children’s behavioral problems. For example, children’s oppositional and aggressive behaviors may result in increased parental control and harsh discipline. This bidirectional relationship between parenting practices and child behavior highlights the importance of considering both factors when studying child and adolescent psychopathology.
Despite the importance of parenting practices and psychopathic traits in child and adolescent psychopathology, research has only recently begun exploring the relationship between these two factors. Understanding the complex interplay between parenting practices and psychopathic traits is crucial for developing effective interventions to help children with psychopathology lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
The study recruited participants from two different settings: a community sample in Greece-Cyprus consisting of 768 parents and a clinical sample in the Netherlands with 217 parents. The clinical sample came from a school for children with severe psychiatric illnesses. Participants completed self-report measures of psychopathic traits (using the Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory), parental practices (using the Parental Bonding Instrument), and conduct problems (using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire).
The results of the study showed that there was a significant relationship between psychopathic traits and parental practices. Specifically, higher levels of psychopathic traits were associated with lower levels of care from parents. Additionally, there was a significant interaction between psychopathic traits and conduct problems on parental control. In other words, children with high levels of both psychopathic traits and conduct problems were likelier to experience high levels of parental control.
In the community sample, parents of children with high callous-unemotional traits were more likely to engage in inconsistent discipline. Interestingly, this was not the case in the clinical sample, possibly because parents were already aware of their child’s difficulties and sought help, resulting in different parental practices.
The study also found that impulsivity-need for stimulation dimension was related to inconsistent discipline in the community sample. In the clinically-referred sample, the grandiose-deceitful dimension was associated with inconsistent discipline.
The authors acknowledge several limitations of their study. First, the study used self-report measures, which may be subject to bias. Second, the study was cross-sectional, so it is impossible to determine causality. Finally, the study only included two settings (community and clinical), so it is unclear whether these findings would generalize to other settings.
The research team identified several implications of their findings. First, they suggest that their results support the idea that parenting is not solely responsible for children’s behavior; children’s behavior can also impact parenting practices. Children with high callous-unemotional traits may be perceived as challenging by parents, leading to parental exhaustion and less positive parenting practices.
Second, they suggest that their findings highlight the importance of taking into account both psychopathic traits and conduct problems when assessing parental practices. Finally, they suggest that their findings have implications for intervention programs, as understanding the relationship between psychopathic traits and parental practices can help in developing more effective interventions.
The study provides valuable insights into the relationship between psychopathic traits and parental practices. By understanding the complex interplay between parenting practices and child behavior, we can develop more effective interventions to help children with psychopathology lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
The study, “Psychopathic Traits and Parental Practices in Greek-Cypriot Community and Dutch Clinical Referred Samples“, was authored by Giorgos Georgiou, Chara A. Demetriou, Olivier F. Colins, Peter J. Roetman, and Kostas A. Fanti.