Differential susceptibility in successful psychopathy: a genetic plasticity explanation of heterogeneity among psychopathic individuals




Tanksley, Peter T.

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Psychopathy is a disorder associated with violent and persistent antisocial behavior. Research has shown, however, that a psychopathic subtype exists that does not perpetrate these same violent and antisocial acts—this subtype is referred to as 'successful psychopaths.’ Successful psychopaths are able to act in more prosocial ways and achieve more adaptive outcomes than their 'unsuccessful’ counterparts. Although researchers have identified these two types of psychopaths, relatively less research has been devoted to understanding the factors that may explain why some psychopathic individuals are more successful than others. Using a sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), this study attempts to explain the disparate outcomes of psychopathic individuals by applying a differential susceptibility model (Belsky, 1997). Differential susceptibility theory (DST) states that those high susceptibility are more reactive to both positive and negative environmental stimuli while those low in susceptibility are less reactive to all types of environmental stimuli. This study hypothesizes that psychopathic individuals who are high in genetic plasticity (a type of susceptibility factor) will, when compared to those low in plasticity, achieve more adaptive outcomes when exposed to protective factors and achieve more maladaptive ones when exposed to risk factors. The findings and implications for future research are discussed.


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criminology, Differential Susceptibility, genetic plasticity, molecular genetic, psychopathy, successful psychopath



Criminal Justice