Psychopathy: developmental perspectives and their implications for treatment

Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2014;32(1):103-17. doi: 10.3233/RNN-139001.


Psychopathy is a mental disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior. Accumulating research suggests that psychopathy follows a developmental trajectory with strong genetic influences, and which precipitates deleterious effects on widespread functional networks, particularly within paralimbic regions of the brain. While traditional therapeutic interventions commonly administered in prisons and forensic institutions have been notoriously ineffective at combating these outcomes, alternative strategies informed by an understanding of these specific neuropsychological obstacles to healthy development, and which target younger individuals with nascent symptoms of psychopathy are more promising. Here we review recent neurobehavioral and neuroimaging literature that informs our understanding of the brain systems compromised in psychopathy, and apply these data to a broader understanding of its developmental course, ultimately promoting more proactive intervention strategies profiting from adaptive neuroplasticity in youth.

Keywords: Psychopathy; antisocial behavior; callous unemotional traits; conduct disorder; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / psychology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder* / therapy
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Humans