What makes a "successful" psychopath? Longitudinal trajectories of offenders' antisocial behavior and impulse control as a function of psychopathy

Personal Disord. 2021 May;12(3):207-215. doi: 10.1037/per0000421. Epub 2020 Jun 25.


Psychopathy is a considerable risk factor for violent behavior. However, many psychopathic individuals refrain from antisocial and criminal acts. The mechanisms underlying the formation of this "successful" phenotype are uncertain. We tested a compensatory model of "successful" psychopathy, which posits that relatively "successful" psychopathic individuals develop greater conscientious traits that serve to inhibit their heightened antisocial impulses. To test this model, we examined the 7-year longitudinal Research on Pathways to Desistance study of 1,354 adjudicated adolescents. Higher initial psychopathy was associated with steeper increases in general inhibitory control and the inhibition of aggression over time. This effect was magnified among "successful" offenders (i.e., those who reoffended less). These findings support our compensatory model, suggesting that psychopathic individuals who develop greater self-regulatory control over their antisocial impulses become relatively more "successful" than their less regulated counterparts. Moreover, our results speak of the importance of the five-factor model for understanding psychopathy and the crucial role of conscientiousness in the form that psychopathic individuals take. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Criminals*
  • Humans