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Psychopathic traits in the interpersonal context: Is the effect of psychopathic traits on prosocial behavior mediated by peer problems?

The authors of this publication include Iris Frowijn (IDA alumna) and Elien de Caluwé (IDA staff).


Psychopathic traits are often investigated within the individual, while most traits come to expression within the interpersonal context. Low social communion might even be an important overlooked core feature of psychopathy. This raises the question how psychopathic (i.e., Grandiose-Manipulative, Callous-Unemotional, and Irresponsible-Impulsive) traits affect the tendency to show prosocial behavior, and whether peer problems explain this relationship. Besides, the effects of gender on these subrelations are explored. In total, 541 community adolescents and emerging adults (26.4 % men; 16–25 years old, Mage = 21.7, SDage = 2.50) completed questionnaires, measuring psychopathic traits, prosocial behavior, and peer problems. The relationship between psychopathic traits and prosocial behavior was investigated with three separate moderated mediation regression analyses (for Grandiose-Manipulative, Callous-Unemotional, and Impulsive-Irresponsible traits separately) including peer problems as mediator and gender as moderator. Significant direct negative effects of Grandiose-Manipulative and Callous-Unemotional traits on prosocial behavior were found, though not for Impulsive-Irresponsible traits. Peer problems did not mediate this relation and gender was no moderator. The significant moderation effect indicated that only for women a significant direct positive effect of Callous-Unemotional traits on peer problems was found, but not for men nor other psychopathic traits. More gender differences were found with men (vs. women) scoring significantly higher on all three psychopathic traits and lower on prosocial behavior. Implications of psychopathic traits within the interpersonal context are discussed and future research could further investigate how this relationship can be explained, for example by including different types of measures and other potential mediators (e.g., empathy).

Frowijn, I., & De Caluwé, E. (2023). Psychopathic traits in the interpersonal context: Is the effect of psychopathic traits on prosocial behavior mediated by peer problems?. Acta Psychologica238, 103976, doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2023.103976.

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