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Individual differences in psychopathic traits and identifying mental states and emotions in others Cassels, Tracy Gardiner


Psychopathy has gained interest as a research topic in recent years due to the devastating effects it has on society and the failure of traditional rehabilitation techniques to work. Of particular interest is the identification of early indicators of psychopathy in children who may be more susceptible to treatment. There are three distinct factors to psychopathy in childhood-antisocial behaviour, callous-unemotional traits, and narcissism-and it is unclear if these traits exist in various degrees in non-clinical samples and if each factor relates to unique deficits. This study examined how individual differences in these psychopathic traits in typically developing children relate to their competence in identifying both emotional and non-emotional mental states in others. Forty-three children from the Greater Vancouver Area aged 6 to 11 (M = 8yrs 3mos, SD = 1yr 5mos) participated (23 boys, 20 girls). The participants completed an emotion recognition task, a mental state identification task, and an intelligence measure. The parents of the participants completed two well-validated measures of psychopathy in children. The results revealed no relationship between individual differences in these traits and the identification of non-emotional mental states or the overall ability to correctly detect emotions in others. There was, however, a diminished ability to detect negative emotions in those with higher levels of callous-unemotional traits as well as a tendency to incorrectly attribute threat emotions for those with lower levels of psychopathy. These effects were found while controlling for the effects of age, gender, and intelligence. These findings are discussed in relation to current theories of psychopathy and potential avenues for future research.

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