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Violent young offenders : an examination of how psychopathy and instrumentality inform our understanding of aggression Carpenter, Tara Louise


Youth violence and aggression are significant problems facing today’s society. While most young offenders commit relatively minor crimes, a small proportion is involved in more serious, violent crimes. Previous explanations of participation in violence indicate that psychopathy is a robust predictor of aggressive behaviours for both adult (e.g., Walsh & Walsh, 2006) and youth offenders (e.g., Flight & Forth, 2007). Woodworth and Porter (2002) proposed a selective impulsivity hypothesis to reconcile the psychopath’s impulsive nature and propensity for goal-directed violence. Specifically, they suggested that as the severity of crime increases, psychopaths will actively monitor their impulsive tendencies, employing less reactive violence when the consequences are highest (for example, when committing homicide) (Agar, 2009; Woodworth & Porter, 2002). The current investigation is the first to directly test this hypothesis in violent youth offenders. Using a sample of 100 young offender files from British Columbia, the results supported the selective impulsivity hypothesis in youths. Of particular interest, a relationship between the interpersonal features of psychopathy and instrumental violence was revealed. Interpersonally callous traits were related to an increase in use of instrumental violence. Findings are discussed in light of current theories of aggression, and suggestions for future directions are considered.

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