Bégin V, Fontaine NMG, Vitaro F, Boivin M, Tremblay RE, Côté SM. (2022). Childhood psychopathic traits and mental health outcomes in adolescence: compensatory and protective effects of positive relationships with parents and teachers. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
We identified mental health outcomes associated with specific developmental trajectories of psychopathic traits across childhood and tested whether positive relationships with parents and teachers have compensatory or protective effects. Participants were 1401 children (52.82% girls) from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development with available data on teacher-reported psychopathic traits (ages 6–12 years) and self-reported mental health outcomes (ages 15–17 years). Parents and teachers reported their levels of positive relationship with the child (ages 6–8 and 10–12 years). Trajectories of psychopathic traits (High-stable, Increasing, Decreasing, and Low-stable) were included as predictors of mental health outcomes (e.g., conduct disorder, anxiety) in structural equation models controlling for child sex, family SES, and earlier psychopathology. Compensatory effects were tested via main effects of positive relationships and protective effects were tested via their interactive effects with trajectories memberships. When compared to the Low-stable trajectory of psychopathic traits, the High-stable, Increasing, and Decreasing trajectories were associated with distinct sets of mental health outcomes, with children from the Increasing trajectory being at higher risk for both externalizing and internalizing psychopathology. Positive relationships with parents and teachers only partially compensated for these effects. Findings suggest that clinicians cannot expect the detrimental effects associated with psychopathic traits to be entirely prevented by children’s positive relationships with parents and/or teachers. This study reinforces the importance of providing intensive preventive interventions to elementary school children with high levels of psychopathic traits to prevent the long-term negative consequences associated with these traits.