Psychiatric evaluation of youths with Disruptive Behavior Disorders and psychopathic traits: A critical review of assessment measures

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Aug;91:21-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.09.023. Epub 2016 Sep 25.


Disruptive Behavior Disorders (DBDs) are stable and impairing disorders, heterogeneous in presentation, developmental pathways, and treatment needs. Disentangling subtypes according to psychopathological dimensions is helpful for timely diagnoses, precise prognoses and tailored interventions. Psychopathic traits are relevant in subtyping DBDs with severe antisocial and aggressive behaviors. Three psychopathy dimensions have been found: 1) an affective dimension, the callous-unemotional (CU) trait, with lack of empathy and remorse, and with short-lived emotions; 2) an interpersonal dimension, the narcissistic domain, with manipulative abilities, superficial charm, egocentricity and grandiosity; 3) a behavioral dimension, the impulsivity or impulsive-irresponsibility, with irresponsibility, proneness to boredom, and novelty seeking. Recently, research suggests that youth with CU traits, similarly to adults with psychopathy, can present a low-anxious "primary" and high-anxious "secondary" variants. Our aim is to critically review the main measures of psychopathic traits, including the three main dimensions (with specific emphasis on CU traits), and the "primary/secondary" distinction, focusing on the assessment in clinical settings. An assessment procedure is proposed, based on previous literature and personal clinical experience.

Keywords: Adolescents; Assessment; Callous-unemotional; Children; Conduct disorder; Diagnosis; Disruptive behavior disorders; Narcissism; Oppositional defiant disorder; Psychopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Narcissism*
  • Personality Assessment*