Childhood Psychopathic Features and Aggression: A Test of the Fearlessness Hypothesis Open Access

Sylvers, Patrick D (2010)

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Abstract


Abstract
Childhood Psychopathic Features and Aggression: A Test of the Fearlessness Hypothesis
By Patrick D. Sylvers
This study sought to test the fearlessness hypothesis (Lykken, 1957/1995) of psychopathy
in an at-risk sample of 88 pre-adolescent children (ages 7 - 11). The sample consisted
primarily of Caucasian (45%) and African American (44%) children. Psychopathy was
measured using combined child- and parent-reported Antisocial Process Screening
Device (APSD; Frick & Hare, 2001) scores. Emotion processing was evaluated at three
levels, including: preattentive emotion recognition, explicit emotion recognition, and fear
conditioning. As the nature of the explicit fear recognition deficits in children with
psychopathic traits is controversial (e.g., Dadds et al., 2008), this study added to the
literature by including a pre-attentive fear recognition measure. Results indicated that
APSD callous unemotional factor scores, characterized by the affective deficits
associated with psychopathy, predicted preattentive fear and disgust processing deficits.
However, the pre-attentive fear processing deficits were observed in Caucasian, but not
African American, children. APSD total scores and impulsivity/conduct problems factor
scores predicted explicit fear recognition deficits. Moreover, the interaction of aggression
and psychopathy factor scores predicted preattentive and explicit fear recognition
deficits. In terms of fear conditioning deficits, results indicated that the cardiac-related
sympathetic nervous system activation was characteristic of APSD callous unemotional
factor scores when anticipating an aversive stimulus in African American, but not
Caucasian, children. The implications of these findings, as well as future directions for
research, are discussed.


Childhood Psychopathic Features and Aggression: A Test of the Fearlessness Hypothesis
By
Patrick D. Sylvers
B.S., University of Washington, 2002
Advisors: Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D. and Patricia A. Brennan, Ph.D.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the
James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in Clinical Psychology
2010

Table of Contents




Table of Contents

Introduction...................................................................................................................1



Psychopathy in Adults........................................................................................2


Psychopathy in Children....................................................................................3


The Fearlessness Hypothesis.............................................................................7


Deficient Fear Conditioning in Children.........................................................10


Fear Recognition Deficits in Children.............................................................11


Child Psychopathy and Aggression..................................................................15


Childhood Psychopathy and Disruptive Behavior Disorders..........................17


Child Psychopathy and Parenting....................................................................18

The Present Study........................................................................................................20


Hypotheses.......................................................................................................22


Method.............................................................................................................23


Procedure........................................................................................................31


Data Analysis...................................................................................................33

Results.........................................................................................................................35

Discussion...................................................................................................................39

Limitations..................................................................................................................45

Implications................................................................................................................47

References..................................................................................................................50

Tables.........................................................................................................................67

Figures........................................................................................................................81



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