Understanding Deviant Personalities Research Paper

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Psychology Discussion: Psychopathology

Read the introduction to Reading 1: Beaver, Rowland, Schwartz & Nedelec (2011). The genetic origins of psychopathic personality traits in adult males and females: Results from an adoption-based study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 426-432.

Characterise psychopathy: What are the defining features?

Psychopathy is a disorder of the personality that based on three prongs of traits: affective, behavioral, and interpersonal. Perhaps because they are so striking, are observed early in a person's life, or are reliably exhibited across people with psychopathy, the affective trait domain is key to identifying and measuring the incidence of psychopathy in a population. In particular, psychiatrists and psychologists look for callousness, absence of empathy, lack of feelings of guilt or remorse, reactive short-tempers, and indifference to punishment -- other than an association with revenge seeking.

State two findings from the reading that indicate that psychopathic personality traits are inherited.

Beaver, et al. (2011) specifically examined the relationship between heritability and the incidence of psychopathy in the offspring of parents with and without criminal histories. The underlying assumption is that criminal behavior is associated with psychopathy, which is well documented in the literature. A key finding in Beaver, et al. (2011) was that in a sample of adoptees, a positive and significant relationship was found between scores on a psychopathy personality trait scale and having a biological father with a criminal history. Moreover, this finding was true only for male subjects and showed startling increases in effect sizes on the continuous psychopathic personality traits scale and the two dichotomous psychopathy scales. In other words, the relation between psychopathy and status as a male child of a father with criminal history is quite strong, and this relation does not hold true for female children of fathers with criminal history.

3. What are the two types of study designs explained in Beaver et al. (2011) that have been used to determine if psychopathy is inherited? Explain how each of these designs provides information about heritability.

4. What evidence is given that environmental factors are important in the development of psychopathic traits?

The subsample for the Beaver, et al. (2011) study was derived from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health ("Ad Health," Udry, 2003), which consisted of data from several waves of data collection. The subjects in the Beaver, et al. (2011) subsample met two criteria: 1) They were adopted, and 2) they did not live with either biological parent. The psychopathic personality traits of these subjects were assessed by using a continuous measure and by using two binary variables. Unfortunately (from the perspective of research, not adoptee well-being), the Ad Health study identified only a handful of adoptive parents with criminal history, so the interactions between genetic and environment could not be explored in the Beaver, et al. (2011) research. However, the literature is replete with research on twin and other kinship pairs raised in non-shared environments; these studies do show a strong genetic-environment association with psychopathy. Taking a look at just one of these studies that examined the Minnesota Twin Registry (Blonigren, et al., 2003), confirmed that variance in psychopathic personality traits is most heavily influenced by genetic factors, and that the remaining variance is accounted for by nonshared environmental factors. Looking across several studies, these two factors account for 40 to 60% of the variance, with the percentages seeming to vary within that band, although the strength of the relation varies from study to study.

5. In your own words, define non-shared environment and shared environment and give an example that demonstrates your understanding of each.

For individuals who live under more or less typical circumstances, the social practice is to raise children from the same family together in the same home. This arrangement is termed shared environment. For various reasons, some children are separated from their parents or from their siblings and are raised in under different circumstances. Examples include children who are adopted, with siblings going to different homes, or twins who are separated and live apart during their growing up years.

6. Is the shared or non-shared environment thought to contribute more to psychopathic traits? What implications do you think this has for psychologists seeking to prevent the development of psychopathy?

Non-shared environmental factors are considered to contribute to psychopathic traits, whereas. In a study inter alia that analyzed data from the Minnesota Twin Registry, shared environmental factor did not account for any of the variance that was not attributable to genetic factors. A meta-analysis conducted in 2006 indicated that 51% of the variance was due to non-shared environmental factors and 49% of the variance was due to genetic factors. What this means for clinicians and social workers is that a considerable amount of attention must be directed at the environments in which children are raised. For those children who have a genetic link to psychopathy, environmental considerations are critical to the their future psychological development. This information casts the preservation of family orientation of social services, as typically articulated by the Division of Child and Family Services in a doubtful light.

Watch Video 1: "Psychopath in the Family." The link is in the Assignment 2 section of Cloud Deakin.

1. What evidence is presented in the video for a biological link to the callous unemotional traits?

The video, Psychopath in the Family, provides a strong argument that the functioning of the amygdala is compromised in people with psychopathy. Within the amygdala, emotional expressions that are associated with punishment or reward are processed. Brain structure and size has been observed vary in individuals with associations related to gender and overall emotional function or dysfunction. Evidence of presumably physiologically-based dysfunction can be observed in antisocial behavior, and a reduced or absence of guilt and empathy. The video suggests that the character of the young boy has abnormally sized amygdala, which strongly influences the occurrence of aberrant behavior.

2. What indication in the video is there that being callous and unemotional can be considered a trait?

Consider that a personality trait is a stable characteristic associated with a broad disposition that contributes to an individual's behavior. These traits are all of a piece in individuals and are expressed as personalities that can be broadly, yet categorically differentiated. Callous and unemotional behavior is a commonly observed characteristic in people who have been diagnosed as psychopathological. The young boy featured in the video has already established a history of callous, unrepentant behavior: one of the markers of conduct disorder, presumably because it is opportunistic behavior, is a history of being cruel to animals. This callous and unemotional cruelty seems to assume more of an instrumental behavior than a reactive behavior, although it does not seem accurate to refer to animal cruelty by young children as goal directed. It is as though the lack of empathy and ineffectuality of repercussions creates a void in which the personality traits can hold sway. Psychopathy confers greater risk for aggressive behavior that appears to be correlated with a lack of empathy and remorse. Frequently, the aggressive behavior is reactive or instrumental. Some catalyst may cause a psychopathic person to become frustrated or feel threatened, thereby setting off spontaneous rage against the person or source of the emotion or perceived slight. Unlike the reactive behavior seen in PTSD or bipolar disorder, reactive aggression is often accompanied by instrumental aggression in psychopaths. Instrumental aggression is cold, unlike the hot rage of reactive aggression, and it is directed toward some goal, such as robbery or payment for committing some violent act.

B. Watch Video 2: Extracts from The Iceman. The link is in the Assignment 2 section of Cloud Deakin. (Warning this can be disturbing).

1. Give an example of the Iceman's story that can be explained by trait theory?

Richard Kuklinski's father was an alcoholic who was prone to violent outbursts when drunk and sober. He beat Kuklinski harshly and without provocation. Kuklinski's mother also beat him, was cold in her interactions with her son, and unapproachable with respect to the possibility of her son being able to solicit her protection from his abusing father.

2. What aspects of the environment might have contributed to the Iceman's personality?

Kuklinski's mother did not, as often happens in families where one parent abuses the children, stand up for or protect her son. Kuklinski would have been hyper-alert virtually all the time, as he never would be able to know just when or why his parents would turn on him. From what we know, no adults in his life served in a protective or nurturing capacity. The basic elements that foster normal psychosocial development were missing from his life: Kuklinski could not rely on adults to love, care, protect, or nurture him.

3. What type of gene x environment interaction might have contributed to the Iceman's personality? Explain you answer.

The twin-based research cited in Beaver, et al. (2011) indicates that genetic links (heritability) and environments in which twins were raised account for 100% of the variability in phenotypes. Shared and non-shared…[continue]


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