Suvi Virtanen et al – Eurocrim 2020

Do psychopathic personality traits in childhood predict subsequent criminality and psychiatric outcomes over and above childhood behavioral problems?

Suvi Virtanen1,2, Henrik Andershed3, Catherine Tuvblad3,4, Olivier F. Colins3,5, Sebastian Lundström6, Henrik Larsson2,7, Jaana Suvisaari8, Paul Lichtenstein2, Antti Latvala1,2

Suvi Virtanen, Helsinki University. Photo: Private.

1Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; 2Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; 3School of Law, Psychology, and Social Work, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden; 4Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA; 5Department of Special Needs Education, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; 6Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; 7School of Medical Sciences, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden; 8National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland

Abstract of paper presented at Eurocrim 2020:
Purpose:   We investigated whether childhood psychopathic personality traits predicted subsequent self-reported and register-based criminality and psychiatric outcomes when childhood behavioral problems (conduct disorder [CD] and ADHD symptoms) were accounted for.

Methods:   In the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden, parents rated their children’s (n=12,394) psychopathic personality traits, CD, and ADHD symptoms at age 9/12. We studied the risk for self-reported delinquency, problematic substance use, and anxiety/depression at age 18. The sample was also linked to nationwide registers where we studied suspicion of crimes, and diagnoses of substance use disorders and anxiety/depression up to age 21.

Results:   Childhood psychopathic personality traits were associated with self-reported delinquency (β=0.65, 95% CI: 0.41-0.90) and suspicions of violent (hazard ratio [HR]=1.33, [1.23-1.45]) and non-violent (HR=1.28, [1.22-1.36]) crimes. The estimates were attenuated, but remained elevated for delinquency and violent crimes after accounting for childhood behavioral problems. Psychopathic personality traits were associated with substance use problems and anxiety/depression, but these associations were mainly explained by childhood behavioral problems.

Conclusions: Psychopathic personality traits were a risk marker for criminality and psychiatric outcomes, particularly in children with co-occurring behavioral problems. However, the independent contribution of psychopathic personality traits was modest at best, when behavioral problems were accounted for.