Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a constellation of affective, interpersonal, lifestyle and antisocial features whose antecedents can be identified in a subgroup of young people showing severe antisocial behaviour. The prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is thought to be ~1%, but is up to 25% in prisoners. The aetiology of psychopathy is complex, with contributions of both genetic and environmental risk factors, and gene–environment interactions and correlations. Psychopathy is characterized by structural and functional brain abnormalities in cortical (such as the prefrontal and insular cortices) and subcortical (for example, the amygdala and striatum) regions leading to neurocognitive disruption in emotional responsiveness, reinforcement-based decision-making and attention. Although no effective treatment exists for adults with psychopathy, preliminary intervention studies targeting key neurocognitive disturbances have shown promising results. Given that psychopathy is often comorbid with other psychiatric disorders and increases the risk of physical health problems, educational and employment failure, accidents and criminality, the identification of children and young people at risk for this personality disorder and preventative work are important. Indeed, interventions that target the antecedents of psychopathic features in children and adolescents have been found to be effective.
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